‘Always give our advertisers and our readers more than they expect’

Chip Hutcheson

Aug 1, 2022

In the last 25 years of my newspaper career, my co-workers surely grew weary of my paraphrase of that advice: “Always give our advertisers and our readers more than they expect.”

An interesting question to pose to any veteran newspaper publisher would be this: what is the best advice you can pass on to a new publisher?

That’s an easy one for me. I was 28 years old, and my only experience was on the editorial side. I had been sports editor of my college newspaper, then worked six years as sports editor of a daily newspaper near my hometown. When my father decided to retire from the family owned newspaper because of poor health, I was eager to take the reins. But I had never sold an ad, never designed an ad, never covered a city council or school board meeting. You get the idea — there were plenty of “never” things in my background.

Thankfully, my father wasn’t one who gave suggestions at every turn. He offered only one piece of advice, and it served me well through a 41-year career as a community newspaper publisher.

“In this business, you’ll never be caught up,” he said. “There’s always one more story you can write, always one more advertiser you can see.” That mindset of never kicking back and taking it easy once the week’s paper rolled off the press is one that will serve any publisher well in today’s tough business environment.
In the last 25 years of my newspaper career, my co-workers surely grew weary of my paraphrase of that advice: “Always give our advertisers and our readers more than they expect.”

Every year, the National Newspaper Association honors many who have embraced that mantra — you’ll find them recognized with awards at the annual convention in San Francisco in October. Thankfully — for our industry and our democracy — there are still many newspapers across this country that understand the concept of providing more than is expected.

Sadly, some in today’s newspaper business don’t embrace that idea. I’m sure you can think of newspapers who have chosen to give less, not more — fewer reporters, fewer pages, fewer publication days. Thankfully, there are shining stars around that serve as a model for community papers to not just maintain the status quo but to give their readers and advertisers more than ever.

Case in point is the Crittenden Press in the town of Marion, Kentucky, population 2,885. It has always been a strong local newspaper, but co-owners Chris Evans and Allison Mick-Evans have been innovative in providing their community with new products to enhance the newspaper operation.

The Press was one of the first newspapers in western Kentucky to publish a shopper. The Early Bird was birthed in the 1980s and remains a staple to this day in the newspaper’s arsenal of products. It’s published weekly, but once a month it has an expanded reach of 11,300, hence a slight name change to The Big Bird. It’s one of few shoppers still being produced by Kentucky newspapers.

Like most newspapers, it has an active Facebook page, but that content is generally breaking news and teasers to motivate people to buy a paper and read the rest of the story.

While the print product remains as strong as ever, the newspaper in the past decade has built a strong multimedia presence. Go to its website (crittendenpress.blogspot.com) and you’ll find numerous podcasts and videos that have enamored the community.

The podcasts and videos started with breaking news, then expanded to shows featuring coaches of the local high school sports teams — with sponsors providing revenue for those features. The topics covered grew to include a “Women in History” series. When COVID hit, there were podcasts with the local school superintendent, the health department director and interviews with school principals about how they were responding to constant changes in health directives. Considerable time and effort is required on the production end of the videos, including editing and adding music.

“Even if it is a 30-second clip, people like to watch them,” said Mick-Evans, whose father, Paul Mick, was a prominent Kentucky publisher until he was tragically murdered in 1990.

“We haven’t cut our print coverage at all, but we have added so much multimedia,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, but I think it gives people what they want. We have businesses that want videos, and those get a lot of views. We post the videos for a few days on our website, then put them on YouTube permanently.”
There was strong positive reaction to the paper doing a live election night show, reporting results in real time. It set the paper apart from other media because no one else was providing that county’s results in real time.

The obvious objection to such an ambitious operation would be staffing. But the Press does all this through the efforts of the Evanses, a graphic artist and a reporter/columnist. What’s required is incredible dedication and a genuine love for the community — along with an ever-present quest to give your community more than it expects.

Chip Hutcheson is the retired publisher of The Times Leader in Princeton, Kentucky. He was NNA president in 2015. He currently serves as a content strategist for Kentucky Today, the online news website of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. chiphutcheson@yahoo.com