Lindsey and I purchased The Clarion, our first little newspaper a little over 10 years ago. The Clarion covers all those sleepy little towns between Wichita and Hutchinson along K-96 Highway.
When we purchased The Clarion all of the core communities, Maize, Colwich, Andale, Mount Hope, and Haven were different, had differing levels of economies and were split between three school districts ranging from 6A to 3A.
Now, those communities are vastly different and in far more ways than I would have guessed when we purchased the paper over a decade ago.
Let’s take Andale for instance. It’s right in the heart of Clarion country and when we purchased the newspaper it had a locally owned bank, a more regional bank, a mechanic, grocery store, salon, two local eateries, and a lumberyard which was locally owned.
Today, the locally owned bank is managed out of Hutchinson. The grocery store shut down and folks either drive to Colwich or Wichita to shop. The salon owner moved and the building has been for sale for years. The two local eateries are gone, one turned into a consignment shop and the other was purchased by the coop and still operates under a different name. The mechanic is as busy as he always has been as far as I can tell. As for the lumberyard, it was sold to a different family in a neighboring community and still operates without much differences.
There are other businesses on the edges of town, but as far as Main Street goes that was pretty much the core and in ten years it has changed almost completely. The story is similar in almost every other community but Maize which at this point is almost distinguishable from Wichita outside of their school district.
As you can imagine the newspaper has had to change along with it’s communities and the not all the changes have made for a better product. It’s hard to fund local journalism in the traditional model of funding a newspaper when Main Street is either empty or occupied with businesses that don’t advertise in the paper and are largely operated out of the area.
Newspapers for over a 100 years have supplemented delivery of the paper with advertising. The cost of a subscription doesn’t come close to funding the journalism within it. As that advertising starts to dry up so do the funds for the journalism unless of course you can pivot somehow.
That is exactly what we are trying to do in Newton and Harvey County with Press Club, and events like Blues, Brews and Barbecue.
To a lesser extent, Newton and Harvey County have seen the same changes our smaller Clarion communities have seen. We used to have three locally owned banks in town, there used to be more service businesses, there used to be a lot of things that we can all remember and don’t seem that far away in our memory.
If the newspaper industry doesn’t pivot and start to look at funding the journalism differently than just advertising, then the product will suffer and eventually become harder and harder to sell to the reader as no one wants to pay more for a diminished product. This is also why we charge for the paper and online access. It’s the only viable way to fund journalism we have found.
There are communities that would kill for the level of journalism Harvey County enjoys. Just ask some of your friends from Reno County or Saline County if you are curious.
I write all of this to give some context to all the efforts we have been making lately. I know you have seen the Press Club ads and we started it partially as a new revenue source and partially as a way to get Newton moving after 5:30 p.m. a little, something we think is needed.
We see the writing on the wall in Harvey County. Locally owned businesses are consolidating with larger ones looking for economies of scale and sometimes our little newspaper gets lost in the scuffle. We have tried to find logical ways to cut expenses as well so we get it.
Us looking to throw a concert, start a club, bring in the Kansas Reflector for a discussion on state politics, hosting community forums, and being involved in the community is us trying to show the community value and hopefully prove to you that we are worth a membership in Press Club.
You all have access to the ownership of this newspaper. We all live here and we all care about what is happening even if you all don’t love us all the time.
So, if you were ever wondering why we do what we do or talk about what we talk about that should help clear things up. We are trying to be creative with how we fund journalism in this community going forward. We know the advertising, while valuable, won’t fund it solely forever. That truth can be found in almost every community in America.
If you are interested in getting on the Press Club e-mail newsletter, just shoot me an e-mail and I will put you on there without any other commitment. You can scope it out and see if it’s for you. If you are a business owner and want to provide an interesting new benefit, you can also contact me about corporate sponsorship. We are looking for somewhere fun to host our March mingle as of this writing.
In closing, as our communities change so must we. Hopefully Press Club and our other events can be a meaningful addition to something positive happening in the community.