Weeklies no more
Readers drive two Georgia newspapers to publish twice a week
In two south-central Georgia towns about 31 miles apart, newspaper readers wanted the same thing: more than one printed edition a week, please.
As of this week, both papers now come out on Wednesdays and Saturdays instead of only on Fridays. And executives in both places, General Manager Chris Lewis in Cordele and Publisher William Hand in Americus, use the same word to describe community reaction: "excited."
"When we bought the paper, one of the things we kept hearing from people was that they were wishing we had more editions," said Hand. "So we immediately decided to go to Wednesday and Saturday, and we set a goal for three weeks from when we took over. We just wanted to give people their newspaper back."
The Cordele Dispatch had been cut back to one day a week in May of 2014 for budget reasons prior to Boone's purchase, Lewis said. "There were a lot of complaints that we had dropped to one day. They weren't getting obits in a timely manner. Everything was already past due by the time it came out in our edition."
The change reflected a commitment by the new owner, she said. "Boone Newspapers wants to be more community involved. And that's what we're going to be. Listening to our readers and going back to two days a week is a logical thing for our community."
The Dispatch circulates 4,000 papers with an average of 18 pages in Cordele, a community of 22,000. The Times-Recorder circulates 3,000 with an average of 16 pages in Americus, population 18,000. Both papers are printed in Bainbridge.
Hand thinks that people in small communities prefer print because the local paper is still often the only source for the kind of local news they want. People who live in places like Atlanta have multiple sources for online, broadcast and printed news, he said.
It's no coincidence that the new publication cycles began on the Saturdays after opening night of high school football season in both towns. Readers were clear that they wanted high school football stories in print the day after the game, not a week later.
"People are extremely excited with the two days a week," Hand said. "They can read their obituaries in a much timelier manner, and also they're really excited about the next day football coverage we can provide now."
Advertisers "love it," said Lewis. Retailers previously had to advertise some sales as much as two weeks ahead in the Friday paper. Now they can run sales ads in a timely manner.
"They get a choice of which day of the week they want it to run. It's just more flexible for them," she said.
Neither paper has ignored the digital age. Both are also redesigning their websites (www.cordeledispatch.com and www.americustimesrecorder.com) and expect to launch them soon. "We're going to have a new and improved website with a different template, different ad space sizes and things like that," Hand said.
Lewis said younger readers especially use the Dispatch website, while older readers use it to check for new obituaries and breaking news. Both papers post community doings and have explained the publication changes on their Facebook pages.
For the time being, each paper will continue with a handful of full-time employees overseeing news and sports while also using sports stringers, community contributors and columnists.
"Our staff is excited for what the future is going to hold for us," said Lewis. Things are looking up. We're ready for it."
Jane Nicholes, a regular contributor to the eBulletin, is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.