Upholding a legacy: Wisconsin publishers prepare for their seventh generation to take over

Teri Saylor

Special to Publishers' Auxiliary

Oct 1, 2021

The Monroe County Herald is a 5,200-circulation newspaper in Sparta, Wisconsin, that comes out on Mondays and Thursdays
Kyle and Greg Evans
Sue and Greg Evans
Greg Evans

As a sixth-generation newspaper publisher, Greg Evans knows what a good newspaper looks like, and he’s doing his best to give readers in Monroe County, Wisconsin, the best news product he can produce.

A printer by trade, Evans and his wife, Sue, joined the ranks of newspaper ownership six years ago when they bought The Sparta Herald and the Monroe County Democrat, located in nearby Tomah. In 2018, he added the Hillsboro Sentry-Enterprise and the Hillsboro Outlook to his company. He has since combined the four of them into two newspapers — the Monroe County Herald, a 5,200-circulation newspaper that comes out on Mondays and Thursdays, and the Hillsboro Sentry-Enterprise, a Wednesday newspaper with 1,500 circulation.

Both newspapers have been rooted in their communities for nearly 150 years.

For Greg, these purchases were personal. He is a former production manager at the Monroe County Herald who now owns Evans Printing and Media Company. His parents are former owners of the Hillsboro Sentry-Enterprise. His son, Kyle, who is in charge of advertising, is preparing to purchase the newspapers from his dad.

One of 14 siblings, Greg can’t remember a time when he wasn’t involved in newspapers. “I can trace our family newspaper involvement on my father’s side back to the country of Wales,” he said as he sat next to Kyle for an interview on Zoom.

They moved to the United States and settled into newspaper publishing in Iowa and Nebraska, he added.

When Kyle takes ownership of the newspapers next year, he will represent the seventh generation of family publishers.

NNA reported on Greg’s acquisition of the two Monroe County newspapers back in 2016, and editor Pat Mulvaney remarked that the purchase was one of the best things that could happen in the community.

Greg is intensely devoted to the communities he covers and views his newspapers as megaphones for their communities.

“If the newspapers weren’t there to do the reporting, it would not get done,” he said. “Nobody else in Monroe County watches out for the public interest like the newspaper does as far as covering government meetings, taxes and other important issues.”

As Greg sees it, in addition to keeping the public informed, newspapers have the power to unite communities. He can recall a fierce rivalry between Sparta and Tomah when separate newspapers covered each town. The towns, each with a population of around 9,500, are 17 miles apart.

The newspapers fought for readership and advertisers, Greg said. The two towns competed for new business locations and shoppers.

But when the newspapers merged, both Greg and Kyle noticed less rivalry between the towns, which now seem to be working together to lift each other up.

Sparta is the Monroe County seat but has more than one claim to fame. The town is home to the late Deke Slayton, one of the original NASA Mercury Seven astronauts. Sparta, which also bills itself as the Bicycling Capital of America, is the location of the first Rails-to-Trails program and home to the Deke Slayton Space and Bicycle Museum.

Hillsboro is a small town in Vernon County, about 45 miles east of Sparta, in the heart of Wisconsin. Its population is around 1,400.

Both Greg Evans and Kyle Evans learned their trade the hard way, from growing up in it, using their own hands to build it and applying common sense to keep their business successful.

“I attended the school of hard knocks,” Greg said. “I have been swimming upstream my whole life.”

Evans Print & Media Company is a full-service printing and specialty product company with a 12-unit press that prints 11 newspapers, including the Monroe County Herald and the Hillsboro Sentry-Enterprise. Evans trains his own pressmen and handles repairs and upkeep himself.

While the Monroe County Herald does not often take strong editorial positions on its opinion pages, it also refuses to shy away from hard news. Fort McCoy, a U.S. Army base in Monroe County, is housing Afghan refugees from last summer’s conflict in Afghanistan. The newspaper has provided extensive coverage, including recent reports that refugees are being neglected and suffering from the lack of adequate food and clothing.

The newspaper has also reported on lingering controversies surrounding COVID-19 vaccines and wearing face masks.

Evans occasionally fields requests from readers and advertisers for the newspapers to take a stand on issues, but he stays away from taking sides and maintains his focus on neutrality in his coverage.

“Just the facts, ma’am,” Kyle quipped.

Both father and son are concerned about the graying of their readership, and they constantly brainstorm on ways to attract younger e-readers.

“We hear from younger readers that everything is online, including the news they want to read,” Greg said. “My answer to that is ‘who do you think puts the news online?’”

Nevertheless, the newspapers are growing. Local subscriptions for the Monroe County Herald cost $54 per year, and for the Hillsboro Sentry-Enterprise, local subscriptions cost $35.

“We are located in a rural setting, and in our communities, we are the only news source,” Greg said.

He reasons that television and radio stations in nearby La Crosse provide state and regional coverage, but they don’t cover local news in Monroe County.

Without the newspapers, Greg envisions news deserts in the communities they serve.

“People need newspapers more than they realize,” he reasoned. “Newspapers are instrumental in keeping people informed and engaged. If our communities didn’t have newspapers, their taxes would be higher, and their quality of life would be limited.”

On the advertising side, special sections are king, Kyle said.

The Monroe County Herald runs at least two special sections per month. Local manufacturers and large businesses participate in the newspaper’s monthly community pages alongside the main street businesses.

A strong local Amish community also supports the newspapers. They are active readers and interact with the newspaper and community through letters to the editor, Kyle said.

“They are also strong advertisers,” he added. “They build custom cabinets and other furnishings and like to advertise in our fall home improvement sections, even running full-page ads.”

As long as the Evans family continues to operate its press, the printed newspaper will remain alive and well, Greg said. But there’s also room for digital products.

“Whether it’s picking up a newspaper and reading it or just saying, ‘Siri, read me the headlines,’ we’ll always have news sources,” Greg said. “Television and radio will report on a topic for a minute or two, but if you want to learn the details of your town’s audit or learn why your county needs to build a new nursing home, pick up the newspaper and find out.”

As they approach the seventh generation of the family’s business, neither Greg nor Kyle take their roles and responsibilities for granted. They take pride in and appreciate having it on their shoulders. Building upon the legacy their ancestors created along the way is an obligation they are proud to uphold.

Teri Saylor is a writer in Raleigh, North Carolina. Contact her at terisaylor@hotmail.com