Jessica Westerman, a rookie publisher who is making a difference one page at a time

Teri Saylor

Special to Publishers' Auxiliary

May 1, 2019

The Glasford Gazette: A family affair. Jessica Westerman publishes the newspaper from her home office. Even though they don’t work for the paper, her family is very much involved, especially her junior editors. Left to right: son Jake, his fiancé, Aubrey; daughters Megan, Izzy, Amelia (junior editor); husband, Ben; son Calvin (junior editor), Jessica and son Justin.

After Jessica Westerman took over publishing the Glasford (Illinois) Gazette in July 2016, she read the long list of readers whose subscriptions had expired, and she wanted to cry.

“The number of paid subscribers had dwindled down to around 200,” she said in a recent phone conversation.

But today, thanks to Westerman’s hard work and a community committed to its local newspaper, she has tripled the Gazette’s circulation and has a goal of reaching 1,000 subscribers by 2020. With a Newspapers in Education program ready to kick off this summer, she believes she can do it.

Westerman, who is an experienced multimedia developer, had no experience running a business or editing a newspaper when she took over the tiny weekly after its former owner decided to stop publishing it.

William F. Rader founded the Glasford Gazette in 1899. Generations of the Rader family saw it through many changes, including the purchase of a neighboring newspaper, the Hanna-Trivoli Index in 1928, which they folded into the Gazette. The family kept it vital for 100 years before selling it to the Watkins family in 1990, according to Westerman. The Watkins family gifted it to the Brown family in 2013, who turned it over to Westerman in 2016.

“I had been helping with the layout and design when the Browns decided to let it go, so I took charge of the finances, paid the past month’s invoices and took over,” she said.

Westerman’s husband, Ben, an electrician, is her business partner, but he is not involved in its day-to-day management. Westerman is a one-woman operation and balances her work with her duties as a mom to children she refers to as her “junior editors.”

In addition to the town of Glasford, the Gazette covers two school districts, which include five townships in Peoria County. Glasford’s general population is around 1,000. Westerman depends on public notice advertising to help keep her community informed and to help keep the newspaper afloat.

Glasford is uniquely recognized as one of about 30 locations across the United States where meteors struck and created craters millions of years ago, according to the U.S. Meteorite Impact Craters website. Scientists estimate that Glasford’s crater, which is more than two miles in diameter and not visible on the surface, was created by a meteor strike 450 million years ago.

The town is situated in the middle of Illinois, about an hour from Peoria. Although the community is largely rural, it is a relatively short, three-hour drive to visit Chicago or St. Louis, Missouri.

“We have the best of both worlds,” Westerman said. “We can enjoy small town life, with easy access to two big cities.”

The big cities are just far enough away from Glasford that the larger daily newspapers offer little competition.

“From my perspective, and I am new to the industry, having local connections is the key to success,” she said.

To build connections, Westerman publishes stories about local business owners and attends school reunions, where she interviews those celebrating graduation anniversaries.

Readers also relate to the newspaper’s popular “Memories” section, a full-page dedicated to news from days gone by.

She is also working on partnering with, the online obituary service, and is excited to be launching a new website in May.

While older subscribers are her core readers, Westerman believes her highly anticipated NIE program will trigger growth and start building a base of younger readers. She anticipates this move will enable The Gazette to grow from 8 tabloid-sized pages to 12.

The Gazette travels to its subscribers through the Postal Service, and 80% of the readers are local. A few racks at places like the local Dollar General and Casey’s General Store serve up single-copy sales. Her ad base is made up of local businesses — the bank, an insurance company, a restaurant, auctioneer, real estate brokers, the funeral home and churches.

While Westerman has never been a journalist, she has embraced her role as the megaphone for her community.

“I want to make sure I am a voice for the people here, and I strive everyday to print the news completely and accurately,” she said.

Her biggest challenge is time. While she works on average 25 hours a week in her home office, about a quarter of those on weekends, she juggles her duties as a wife and mother.

“I don’t have time to do everything I want to do, and I don’t have enough resources yet to hire staff,” she said.

But she’s going strong and has high hopes for the future that the Gazette will equal a Sunday newspaper.

“In 10 years, I would like to publish a weekly newspaper that is strong enough to give a big daily’s Sunday edition a run for its money,” she said.

Until then, she’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other, growing her subscribers one at a time and adding pages as her financial picture improves.

“So many days, I feel like I am just spinning my wheels, but I know the community appreciates my efforts,” she said. “If I keep going, I know the rewards will come.”

This year, Westerman was rewarded for her hard work. In the first Illinois Press Association contest she ever entered, she walked away with a big prize: Rookie of the Year.

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer in Raleigh, N.C. Reach her at