Family-owned newspapers rule!

Aug 8, 2014

By Peter W. Wagner
Iowa Information Inc.

At the same time that some metro papers are scraping the walls to hang on, family-owned community newspapers often own their market. No other local media so completely or so regularly reaches so many local buyers.

Radio stations don’t. Broadcasters have become narrowcasters with a format or music selection that attracts only a small slice of the community.

Metro TV stations can’t. Dependent on serving a regional audience, they rarely report local, small-town news.

The Internet can’t. Non-media websites and blogs are often one-sided and are created to promote a specific idea. They lack credibility, making it necessary to read three or four sources to get the total story. Only newspapers are the true broadcasters—reaching the largest base of registered voters and decision makers in the local community.



Offering solid reporting, local-creative advertising and promotional ideas, local newspapers can rule their market with good management skills and a commitment to the community.

But the key is serving the community first. In many markets, the newspaper is the one cheerleader left. There was a time when the local banks, chambers of commerce, farmer’s elevators and community schools all helped promote and build the community. But over the years most have been incorporated into regional groups with limited interest in local community support or leadership. Only the locally managed newspaper remains to promote positive community change, push for needed community improvements and most importantly, create consensus.



Here are nine of my favorite suggestions for touching your community with your still-important printed product.

1) Reconsider using news releases as easy filler for your newspaper. Many are self-serving, overly written and are expected by the sender to take the place of paid advertising. They consume space you can better use to provide real news or a well-crafted feature story. Those you do use can usually be rewritten with a hometown slant or quote to make it more local. Others can be condensed to just a few lines in the “People We Know” or other consolidated sections.

2) Don’t overlook the importance and value of good photos. Make them sharp, big and informative. Be sure to include as many people in each picture as possible. In 1911, newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane said, “A single picture is worth a thousand words.” That statement is still true today. But be sure to get everyone’s name in the cutline under the picture. Names still sell newspapers and build circulation. Solid circulation helps sell ads.

3) Remember the KISS application to design. “Keep It Simple, Stupid!” My grandchildren tell me stupid isn’t a nice word, but in this case, it makes the point. Refrain from over-design, stay away from small white type on black backgrounds, keep your stories short and to the point, and use a variety of points of entry on longer stories.

4) Trust me: Ads beget ads. You’ll find it in the Bible. Translated, it means the more ads you have in every week, the more ads you’ll get. Sometimes it is necessary to offer discount ads or lower price contracts to get the advertising level up so you can eventually charge the per-inch price you want and deserve.

5) Don’t sell space; sell ideas. Provide passionate creative advertising that produces results. Offer a variety of weekly small advertiser packages that get buyers started. Don’t ask the advertiser if he or she wants an ad. Instead, tell him or her about the page, promotion or section you’re offering one-time-only that he or she can’t afford to miss. Close the sale with a specific idea for what to print in his or her ad.

6) Learn to turn on a dime: respond to breaking news and advertising opportunities when they happen. Stay up all night or take a later press time when a big story breaks. Schedule a special section the same week that a new factory or community honor is announced. You are a NEWSpaper. Stay loose to stay ahead of the competition.

7) If it works, do it again. Most good sales promotions, from Hot Dog Days to BINGO, have a three-year lifespan. Participation is good the first year, better the second and begins to decline the third. But some promotions can go on and on, like life. If the promotion feels good and goes good, do it again.

8) Be like McDonald’s. Ask, “Would you like fries with that?” Upgrade every sale by offering combination packages, process color, special positions, multi-time contracts or possible web presence.

9) Be like McDonald’s again. Add new products to your menu. When McDonald’s started, it only sold hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, shakes and soda. Today, the fast-food chain offers more than 40 items. Increase your volume by adding a variety of additional publications to your newspaper. Total circulation shoppers, weekend what-to-do tabloids, annual community guides, sports books and business tabloids are just a few possibilities. © Peter Wagner 2014

Peter W. Wagner is founder and publisher of The N’West Iowa REVIEW, Sheldon, IA. A frequent speaker at group and association meetings he appeared recently at the Illinois Press Convention and will lead two all-day IPA seminars this fall. Wagner can be contacted at or on his cellphone at 712-348-3550.