Community papers – good for community soul!

Community papers – good for community soul!

By Lorrie DeFrank
Resident Community News

A recent national survey validating that community newspapers effectively engage residents and enhance neighborhoods supports the consensus of Resident Community News readers.
Standing features such as Movers and Shakers, Business Profile, Social Register, Go Givers, Jr. Residents and The Way We Were confirm that the monthly publication provides a vital service to people in its trendy, thriving neighborhoods – information that is relevant to their lives.
The survey for the National Newspaper Association (NNA) conducted by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri School of Journalism showed that readers of community newspapers with a circulation of up to 15,000 prefer their local papers for getting their news and information. The Resident’s two editions each have a circulation of 15,000, with an estimated total readership of 60,000.

NNA President Merle Baranczyk said the survey numbers indicate the level of connectedness people have with their community papers. “From year to year, the studies have shown that people believe in their local papers, for the news they need and the advertising they rely on,” he said.
Co-publishers Seth and Pamela Williams founded the Resident Community News Group after moving to Avondale and sensing a need for more community connection. “We knew we had a great area and a preservation group,” Seth said. “But we could use a community newspaper.”

Having previously owned the Ponte Vedra Recorder, Pamela knew the value of a local paper as a conduit to the community and the process to publish one. With experience in reporting and photography, Seth also possessed the skills to make it work. The couple launched the Riverside/ Avondale/Ortega/Murray Hill edition in January 2007 and started the San Jose/San Marco/St. Nicholas edition in March 2008.

“People embraced it. Advertisers were getting responses. Readers say they read the paper from cover to cover,” said Seth Williams. “We more or less cover the good news and things that pertain to their lives. It plugs them into what is going on in their back yard.”

Community papers also give readers a voice in local issues and provide the information they need to make informed decisions. “Even if one person disagrees, their opinion matters,” Williams said.  For example, “Our paper helped to shape the dialog and conversation on the Mellow Mushroom debate. People may not have known about the impact the new restaurant was going to have.”

“It keeps me connected. I don’t always agree but at least I know what’s going on,” said Frankie Yow, a retiree who lives in the Fishweir neighborhood. In addition to staying informed of area events, Yow said she appreciates the ads, particularly to clip restaurant coupons and keep up with the housing market.
Advertising is critical to The Resident not only because its revenue finances the direct mailing of the free paper to all residents of five ZIP Codes, but also because businesses play a major role in building communities through the services they offer.

“People create homes, homes create neighborhoods and neighborhoods create communities. The heartbeat of our community is amplified by having a community newspaper owned and operated by community members,” said Realtor Anne Burpee Rain, Director, Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty, Avondale. “We are connected with each other through our paper when we read the stories about our neighbors and when we advertise our businesses.” An advertiser since The Resident’s beginning, Rain said business she received through the paper has been outstanding.

Bill Hatchett, owner of A-Coin on St. Augustine Road, recalled acquiring a rare old local bank note as a direct result of a story that ran in The Resident. “A local paper reaches out better. It’s not just good for a day or week; people will put it on a coffee table,” he said. “It’s a good mode of advertising. I like it and will continue to use it.”
“We probably will always have an ad in The Resident because the response we had was crazy,” agreed Paul Riley, partner with Shane Tanner in Swimming Yesterday Seafood in Murray Hill.

Loyal reader John Glover, CEO of Century Ambulance Service, Inc., on Rosselle Street, credits The Resident for helping pack Boy Scout Troop No. 2’s annual spaghetti dinner and for providing historical perspectives of his Avondale neighborhood. He reads it to learn about cultural events, community issues and his neighbors’ achievements. “The content has all those features, stuff you like to read about people you know,” he said.

In this era of technology, Glover believes local papers trump electronic media for building communities. “In the palm of your hand you have a device that gives you information from all around the globe,” he said. “Yet something as simple as a newspaper that discusses local activities says a lot about how humans are still interested in making and keeping connections with neighbors. The Resident is not just pretty pictures; it’s a story of our neighborhoods.”
“We are the original social media. Before Facebook and Linked-In, community papers were linking people together,” said Williams. “They will never be something that people will let go of.”

Billionaire businessman and philanthropist Warren Buffett agrees.
“Whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football, there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job,” he recently wrote in his annual letter to stockholders explaining his acquisitions of community papers across the country – 63 last year alone.

“Warren Buffett is a savvy investor,” Williams said. “If he is trending something it’s not something to be ignored.”
However, Williams acknowledged that a newspaper is only as successful as the community it serves, both being strongly tied to the other.
“We are blessed to serve two excellent communities. Being so close to the core of downtown, they help shape the history of our city,” he said. “Our readers can dig into their community paper and say, ‘Look at all that is going on. This is my community.’ We are a reflection of their actions, work and achievements.”

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