No journalism experience? No problem — Rocco and Julie Maglio parlay their STEM educations into a thriving newspaper

Teri Saylor

Special to Publishers' Auxiliary

Nov 1, 2023

Rocco and Julie Maglio cooked up the Hernando Sun, a weekly in Brooksville, Florida, that is defying the odds as it approaches its 10th anniversary next year.
The couple’s four kids have embraced roles at the newspaper, and their oldest daughter, Hanna, is a journalism student at the University of Florida.

When it comes to starting a newspaper, a background in science and math typically is not a prerequisite, but in the case of Rocco and Julie Maglio, it was the perfect recipe for success.

With a pinch of nostalgia and a heaping portion of love for a community that seemed a little empty without a local newspaper, the Maglios cooked up the Hernando Sun, a weekly in Brooksville, Florida, that is defying the odds as it approaches its 10th anniversary next year.

Growing up in the heart of Hernando County in the little town of Brooksville, Rocco graduated from Hernando High School and was fascinated by the emergence of the internet in the early 1990s. Julie was drawn to art but turned to biology in college, eventually focusing on bioinformatics. Then she became a devoted mom, and the couple went about their lives, raising four kids.

Rocco also grew up reading his local newspaper, The Brooksville Sun Journal, and it was a family pastime.

“My parents and siblings would all take sections of the paper and read them, and then we’d trade them back and forth,” he said. “We’d all go through the newspaper together, and I remember the comics were the most popular.”

The newspaper was a big part of Rocco’s family in other ways, too. His parents ran a Montessori school, and the newspaper was a source of art supplies.

“We’d always go to the newspaper and get the ends of the rolls, then we’d put them out and make giant mural drawings,” he said.

Both Rocco and Julie, who grew up in south Florida, played high school sports and lived for the chance to look for their names in the paper. It was extra special if they had their picture published, too.

As an adult, Rocco got into local politics, serving as a Melbourne Beach town commissioner, vice mayor and finally mayor. While in office, he realized there was a chasm of misunderstanding between residents and town government.

An idea began to take shape.

Over the years, the Brooksville Sun Journal had changed hands, as community newspapers often do, and in 2014, it closed.

“A lot of people were upset by that because the newspaper was such an important part of the community,” Rocco said.

Rocco and Julie talked with local business leaders and former employees of the defunct newspaper about ways to produce local news, but no one had the time or energy to consider a new start-up.

“So we decided to figure out how to do it on our own,” Rocco said. “You know, we’re problem solvers by nature. We’re not great salespeople, and we’re not journalists, but we like to build things and create things, and if there’s a problem, we can figure out how to work through it.”

In early 2015, the Maglios launched the Hernando Sun, named as a tribute to the old Brooksville Sun Journal, and never looked back.

Hernando County sits along the Gulf coast of Florida in an area dubbed “The Adventure Coast.” It’s just north of Tampa and includes the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, home of the famous mermaids and one of the top tourist destinations in the 1950s.

Hernando County’s population is on the rise; the U.S. Census Bureau reports 200,638 residents in 2021. Brooksville is the county seat.

After starting the Hernando Sun as a monthly publication, Rocco and Julie were determined to have some fun with it.

“Julie started drawing cartoons, which was awesome, and we had a ‘Dear Abby’–type feature, but we spoofed the typical advice columns and provided bad advice,” Rocco said. “And we just really had fun.”

Eventually, reality kicked in, and after a year, the fun start-up became a real business, and just like that, the Hernando Sun transformed into a lively weekly newspaper.

Julie learned how to use InDesign, and despite not considering themselves savvy salespeople, the couple began selling ads.

“I’ve definitely been forced to become interested in sales,” Rocco said with a laugh. “But we’ve improved on that, and we’re now producing a really fine product.”

Starting off modestly, the newspaper published eight pages as Rocco and Julie grew into their roles. They learned how to negotiate printing contracts and how to get to get racks placed in the marketplace. In the beginning, the newspaper was free, but soon the Maglios began charging for single copies and applied for Periodical mailing privileges.

“Along the way, there was a lot of learning and a lot of trying to figure out how it all worked,” Julie said. “And the only thing we really knew going in was that we needed to charge for the paper to be able to carry legal notices because we saw that as a revenue stream,”

Today, nearly 10 years after launching, the Hernando Sun is defying the odds in a society where news deserts loom and where many newspapers are in peril.

Julie recalls the day she and Rocco realized the Sun’s circulation in their community was twice that of the Tampa Bay Times.

“The Times is a big regional newspaper, and it was kind of shocking to realize we have twice that newspaper’s circulation in our community,” she said.

The Hernando Sun prints about 4,000 copies a week. Single copies cost 75 cents, and subscriptions are $36.50 a year. Online, the newspaper attracts about 100,000 unique visitors a month. The newspaper does not have a paywall, offering some stories for no charge, but online subscribers get access to the full digital version of the newspaper and a richer newspaper experience.

The newspaper has a public office at the Chamber of Commerce but primarily works out of their home office.

Rocco recently completed a Master of Science degree in information technology, focused on cybersecurity, and works full time as a software engineering adviser outside the newspaper. Julie spends most of her time handling the newspaper’s administrative duties. Both write articles and columns. They have two employees and use as many as 20 freelancers and independent contractors to do chores ranging from newspaper delivery to ad sales and news gathering.

The newspaper runs an active Newspapers in Education program, and Julie is vice president of the Florida Press Association Educational Services Board. She was just re-elected for a second term on the NNA Foundation board.

The Hernando Sun covers local government, and its opinion page relies on guest columnists and letters to the editor.

“You must respect your readers, and I think if you respect them and you listen to their opinions, then you’ll do well,” Julie said. “We never look down on our readers, and we strive to stay on par with them as equal parts of our community, and I think that’s why we’re successful in covering the local news here.”

Advertising is always a challenge, and even though Rocco and Julie have honed their sales skills, they recognize there are small businesses that don’t have many resources to advertise in the newspaper, so they work with them to find affordable options.

“We constantly work on sustainability initiatives, continuously improving the digital side of publishing news and finding ways to monetize it,” Julie said.

And harkening back to Rocco’s family tradition of reading the newspaper together, the Hernando Sun is also a family affair. The couple’s four kids have embraced roles at the newspaper, and their oldest daughter, Hanna is a journalism student at the University of Florida.

“We hope she’ll come back and help with the newspaper after she graduates,” Julie said.

Two newcomers to the newspaper business have become savvy publishers, learning many lessons along the way.

“When we first started, we didn’t realize how competitive the media industry is,” she said. We just planned to start a newspaper and had no idea what we were getting into, so we’ve wisened up and are working to protect our turf by maintaining a strong presence in the community and being persistent.”

Starting a newspaper is hard work, and there’s no guarantee it will be successful, Julie says. But she can’t think of a role more rewarding.

“I think newspapers are so effective and impactful in small communities,” she said. “I wish there wasn’t such a barrier to entry so people in areas without a newspaper could just start one.”

Teri Saylor is a writer in Raleigh, North Carolina. Reach her at