Could Your Area Support Another Local Newspaper?
Today, every large city has at least one major daily newspaper, and many have several papers, including specialized business news, senior citizen news, shoppers guides, advertising sheets, and so on. Some of these papers are published weekly and others may come out every other week, or every month. But in all these ways news and information, and lots of advertising, goes out to the public.
Rather than hurting local newspaper distribution, the Internet has actually enhanced and often increased it. I may live in Sacramento, California, for example, but I can jump on the Internet and catch some of the local news in Portland, Maine by way of the local newspapers. I can even subscribe over the Net in just a few minutes. Such public presence makes every newspaper available to the entire world. The result of such exposure is a much wider audience, and more subscriptions.
The Need in Your Area
More than likely, your area already has at least one daily paper based in a nearby city, as well as other publications, such as The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. I’m sure there are also real estate guides, shoppers, business news, free papers that target farm or city readers, and other local or regional publications. You may wonder if there is really room, or a need for yet another newspaper.
Are Local Businesses & Readers Being Served?
You need to know the answer to the above question before you go very far in trying to develop a newspaper or other local publication. You need to have an accurate understanding of who you will serve, how you will serve them (what can you offer that no one else is offering), and why. You should be fully aware of other publications in your market area and what they are doing.
Take the time to do a little research. Drive around and collect one each of every newspaper, shopping guide or trading post, real estate guide, and free magazine publication you can find. Spend a couple of days looking them over. Go through each publication more than once. Take note of the advertising, the news offered, the features (comics, puzzles, tidbits) offered. Ask yourself how well the people you know are being represented by these publications. How well are the small and medium sized businesses in your area publicized?
The second step in your research is to go out and visit with local business people. Visit briefly with barbershops, pet stores, cafes, repair shops, appliance stores, tax services, attorneys, clothing stores — all kinds of businesses. Stop in and ask business owners and managers about their advertising methods, their needs for new sales and new customers. Ask them how a publication might better serve the community and marketplace.
Next, go through the phone book’s Yellow Pages for your area. Take a look at every business category in the book. Pay special attention to the businesses that do not advertise in the phone book. Go back through your collection of newspapers and guides and see if you can find ads for these businesses. Make a list of the business for which you can find no ads at all. Give them a call, and ask them how they promote their businesses and why.
You’re Looking for two things:
1. Are the existing local publications truly serving your area? Is there a workable and effective way for most small and medium-sized businesses in your area to get the word out about their products and services?
2. Are most of the small and medium-sized business owners in your area really aware of the opportunities open to them for advertising? Do they understand the importance of consistent and effective advertising? Do they have realistic expectations?
As you develop a clearer picture of your area and how well the local people and the businesses that serve them are being represented by the local printed media.
Another step I would encourage is to check out the specific demographics of your area. Always take such information with the proverbial grain of salt. But you may be surprised to learn some of the facts about who lives around you. You can find such information on the web, at sites like
U.S. Government (population, business info, etc.): http://www.census.gov/
Free Demographics PDF file download:
You can find more sources by doing a Google search, typing in the word “demographic” and the name of your city, county or state.
When looking over demographic information, note the numbers of youth, elderly, working-age adults, birth rates (new or expanding families), households, businesses (and what kinds), and other features of the area that influence the local interests and needs of potential readers. The more you know about all the people you serve, the better prepared you are to develop a publication that truly serves the people.
Going Door to Door
Even so, you will get a better “feel” for the people who read the paper by getting out and talking to your neighbors. Why not visit a few people in some of the local neighborhoods? Interview some folks on the street. Talk to a couple of local police officers, chat with a pawnshop owner, the owner of a local bar, a few of the pastors, an officer of a local bank, a store keeper. Ask their opinions of the area, the people they serve each day, what the greatest needs are, and what they think might help the community the most. Get some feedback from children, teens, and some working moms and dads.
All of this may sound like a lot of homework. But it’s the very kind of work you will be doing if you start up a local newspaper. And you cannot imagine how much you will gain from such activity. In a few days, you will know the community like you have never known it before. And you’ll also be better prepared to decide whether or not there is really a place for a new paper in your area.
Practical Applications of the Data
Buy yourself a spiral bound notebook and write down the main things you learn from the above research. List the businesses you want to give special attention to, the groups of potential readers you especially want to target.
Write down the primary goals of your newspaper of other publication. What do you want to accomplish besides making a living? Are there large gaps in the coverage and local representation offered by other publications? Can you see a way of marketing/selling your paper to advertisers that will help them to see the immediate benefit to advertising with you?
With some blank sheets of typewriter paper, layout some page ideas for your publication. Sketch out some headlines, some ideas for main photos, some good ideas for ads, and the kinds of ads you want to run. Build a mock-up of your paper. How many pages will it have (think is sets of 4 and 8, since the printer will think this way). A 16 or 20 page paper is a great size for many small weeklies to start with. That gives you space to fill with information and ads, without giving you a huge mountain to climb.
As you work on ideas, keep in mind the segment of the population, and the specific businesses you want to center your attention on. Build a newspaper that appeals to the readers and advertisers you want to attract.
If you're like me, you'll also be going through the numbers, with a calculator and notepad, over and over and over. Spend all the time you want (and need) playing with numbers before you start trying to sell the first issue.
How many households are in your area (demographics)? How many of those do you plan to reach? How much will postage cost for the number of papers you want to direct-mail to homes, businesses, or p.o. boxes? Get to know your post office staff. Find out about Standard (used to be called Bulk) rates, route saturation mailings, and keep researching until you get the lowest possible rates for your paper.
Get quotes on every configuration of printing your paper. Find out about 4-color process, spot color, black ink only (more about this) and combinations of these, which pages will be color and which will be black ink only (if any). Adjust all your own rates according to this data. And remember that the market you choose to reach will determine much about your use of color and other options.
To learn more about starting your own local newspaper, visit www.newspaper-info.com
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