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Lakeway Publishers’ owner is a true believer in community newspapers

R. Jack Fishman, president and CEO of Lakeway PublishersR. Jack Fishman, owner of 23 newspapers in three states, is a true believer in the value and vitality of community newspapers. Is he delusional, stuck in the past with fond memories of the good old days? Doesn't he see that the newspaper industry has been crumbling all across the country?


"Our brothers in the national media often paint community newspapers with the same brush as the big city metros," says the President of Lakeway Publishers, based in Morristown, Tenn., with papers in Tennessee, Missouri and Virginia. He says those "newspapers are dead" stories just don't resonate across Main Street America.

Fishman cites four years of research produced by the Insight and Survey Center at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) in Columbia, Mo. RJI is located at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The research findings have been consistent and powerful: more than two-thirds of adults in the United States say they have read a community newspaper in the past week. The research also shows there are days when citizens pick up their paper as much for the advertisements as for the news, and that citizen prefer to view advertisements in newspapers by a wide margin over ads on television, radio or on the web.

There are approximately 8,000 community newspapers in America, most of them published weekly or twice weekly. CASR's research was commissioned by the National Newspaper Association and shared with its 2,000 member newspapers. Lakeway's newspapers are NNA members and Fishman is a former NNA president.

"Our publishers have been getting this information for about four years," Fishman said, "but my question was: 'What are we doing with it?' I didn't think we were using it effectively."

So Fishman and Ann Hale, promotions director, decided last October to use the data to make a real impact upon his company's publishers. At the end of Lakeway's annual management retreat, they replaced the typical guest speaker with a discussion of the community newspaper research.

The Citizen Tribune's, a Lakeway Publisher newspaper, brochure using CASR research on community newspaper readership. "We made a big easel displaying the big (important) numbers from the research," he said. "We put it out there and it caused a lot of conversation. They began to ask questions.  It became quickly apparent that they felt it was really good information."

"It caused quite a stir with all of our publishers," Hale said.

The conversation turned to how they might effectively use the information. Hale's department then created a six-page (three 8.5 by 11 inch pages, both sides), full color, tri-fold brochure on coated stock that was customized with the branding for each of the company's 23 papers. Before taking the brochures and data to advertisers, they were shared with staffs so they understood the numbers they’d be talking about.

When the staff went out into the field, they found the advertisers "had not been educated" as to the value and power of community newspapers, Hale said. They had read those same national media reports and assumed all newspapers were dead or dying.

The response from advertisers: "Wow, we had no idea," Hale said the sales staff reported back. "I didn't realize newspapers were still so strong. Some of these statistics are eye-opening," another advertiser said.

"Advertisers saw the enthusiasm on our reps' faces," Hale said. "The response has been tremendous. The research and brochure opened doors (for the sales teams)."

"We grew revenues while many others were contracting," Fishman said. "We think we would have suffered 15-20% decline (in advertising revenues) without it. Instead some of our papers gained, and others lost just 3-4%" (compared to 12-15% for community papers and 18-25% for metro papers).

Lakeway will again produce an updated brochure as CASR and NNA release this year's latest research, but do a few new things this year.

"As I reviewed last year's results with our management team recently, I found that all the publishers appreciated the (RJI/NNA) information," Hale said. "I learned that the research opened doors for them last year."

So this year Lakeway is updating and improving the graphics and developed an initial gameplan on a DVD for each newspaper to take home and share with staff. Follow-up meetings are planned four-to-six weeks later where the sales staffs will be tasked with choosing three different ways to promote themselves in the community in the first quarter. The goal is to get the research out into the community, beyond the advertisers.

Why are community papers doing so well, relatively speaking? One Lakeway publisher responded: "This proved to be a great reminder to our advertisers that we remain the strongest medium in the community, and still the best way for them to reach potential customers."

Lakeway Publishers owns 23 newspapers in three states, each of which has a website loaded with local online ads. The company also operates 14 other media properties.


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