‘I used to be a snob and thought that was not to what real newspapers aspire’
February 16, 2015
After a long newspaper career, publisher is still learning new tricks
By Teri Saylor
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary
As a young reporter, Brent Schacherer once looked down his nose at the weekly newspapers catering to the moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas who loved to cut out and save the names of their children, friends and relatives whose achievements made their way into the news.
But today, he is a changed man whose goal is to publish newspapers that end up looking like swiss cheese, full of holes, with most of their contents stuck onto refrigerators and bulletin boards across his readership area in suburban Minnesota.
“I used to be a snob and thought that was not what real newspapers aspire to, but over the years, I have changed my thinking on that,” he said. “Now, I love refrigerator journalism. It is our bread and butter. News about honor rolls, the pep band, basketball, football—that’s us.”
Other journalists across the country agree. The two newspapers Schacherer publishes—The Litchfield Independent Review and the Hutchinson Leader—won general excellence awards in the National Newspaper Association’s 2014 Better Newspaper Editorial Contest.
The Independent Review garnered first-place honors, and the Leader took home a second-place award.
“Awards are a nice recognition for people in the industry and they say we are delivering a good product to people,” Schacherer said. “But we care most about our readers and advertisers.”
The Independent Review and the Hutchinson Leader are part of the Red Wing Publishing family of newspapers in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area and beyond. Branded for the 21st century as Big Fish Works, the family-owned publishing company has branched out into digital media, complete with Web design capability, search engine optimization services, retargeting, paid traffic solutions, e-mail marketing and social media. Traditional print media have not been left out, and Big Fish Works also operates a commercial printing operation and a newspaper division, which is branded into two divisions.
Crow River Media takes in the Hutchinson Leader and the Litchfield Independent Review, located about 60 miles west of the Twin Cities. The International Falls Journal, near the Canadian border, is part of the group, too.
Southwest News Media blankets the southwest suburban Minneapolis area with newspapers serving the towns of Chanhassen, Chaska, Eden Prairie, Jordan, Lake Minnetonka, Prior Lake, Savage, and Shakopee.
“When I was coming up, we did newspapers,” Schacherer said. “I was a news guy, but I realize the digital part is so important. Our audiences are quickly moving to digital media. They like to follow us on their phones, but we still have a strong contingent of readers who want their printed newspaper with their coffee in the morning.”
Schacherer harbors a lifelong love of all things sports, but he was never an athlete. Instead, he gravitated to sports writing and stuck to that throughout the early part of his career, even though he also covered local news and worked as an editor and a general manager before taking the reins as publisher in Hutchinson and Litchfield.
“Writing was a way for me to be involved in sports,” he said.
With a population of more than 14,000, Hutchinson is the largest town in McLeod County. The Crow River flows through its downtown, and the local park system is one of the oldest in the U.S.
Litchfield is situated just 20 miles west of Hutchinson. The seat of Meeker County, Litchfield, with less than 7,000 residents, is half the size of Hutchinson. Two railroads run through Meeker County. The Great Northern bisects the county across the middle. The Soo Line passes through the county on its north end.
Schacherer lives in Litchfield and commutes to the Hutchinson Leader most days, spending one or two days a week at the Independent.
The newspapers serving the two communities are close neighbors, but each stands alone, and both are fiercely independent.
Both papers have shopper products that broaden their reach. In Litchfield, the shopper serves 7,200 households, and the Hutchinson shopper reaches 17,000. Zest, a monthly magazine, is geared to the 50-plus audience, and Dockside, published three times a year, serves residents who live on the shores of area lakes.
Last August, the newspapers’ websites were brought under Crow River Media’s web platform, and Schacherer is pleased with the response. Consumers can find classified ads and other marketplace features under one roof, and readers enjoy the independent news operations where they can continue to read news specifically about their individual communities.
“This has worked very well, and we have site administrators who serve as a help desk for the newspapers as needed,” Schacherer said. “We have all of the advantages of a large media company, and none of the disadvantages that often come along with a corporate structure.”
Albrecht Family history
As a reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, Arlin Albrecht took a bold step and carried his typewriter along with three cameras and some lenses into the Vietnam War, where he chronicled the lives and deaths of local soldiers. Through these stories, he formed close bonds with the soldiers’ families back home in Red Wing.
Albrecht eventually became chief executive officer of Red Wing Publishing, and together with his wife, Marilyn, built the company to include 21 local daily newspapers in Minnesota and Wisconsin. During a half-century of publishing, the company and its newspapers took home state and national journalism awards, but by 2001, the family had sold 10 of its newspapers. Today, Albrecht’s daughter, Rebecca, and son-in-law, Mark Poss, are taking the corporation’s reins and transforming Red Wing Publishing into Big Fish Works, a 21st century media company.
Schacherer welcomes the changes.
“Digital communication and social media give us hundreds more opportunities to connect with people as readers and as news sources,” he said. “We find out about what’s happening from Facebook. The way we used to do business has been disrupted, and it has opened up new opportunities for locating sources, sharing news, growing readership and selling advertising in a myriad of platforms.”
Altough the new way of reporting news and building advertiser relationships feels like more work, Schacherer acknowledges that some of the old ways have fallen by the wayside.
“It does feel like we are doing more, but on the other hand, we are not in the darkroom developing film anymore, and there’s no paste-up either,” he said.
The company offers a generous paywall policy that allows readers to view 10 stories a month for free. It keeps online traffic high, but Schacherer believes the free story allocation may scale back in the future, and the company is experimenting with ways to structure paid readership.
Like the pioneers who settled the great Midwest generations before Schacherer came into this world, the veteran newspaper man is plowing new ground in the media landscape, and he acknowledges his learning curve.
“Old dogs like me have new tricks that need to be mastered,” he said.
But at the end of the day, he can return to his roots in the news, which is his comfort zone after all, and that’s where he and his staff excel.
“Community journalism goes beyond reporting the news. Great feature writing on interesting subjects convert readers and makes the news of the day relatable for people,” he said.
And despite all of the Facebook posts, tweets, slideshows, videos and digital advertising platforms, there is a north star, and Schacherer focuses on its constant presence.
“We are a newspaper,” he said. “And if we have brought the news to our readers, then we have done our jobs.”
Name of Newspaper(s): The Litchfield Independent Review and The Hutchinson Leader.
Describe your personal philosophy as a community newspaper publisher in one sentence: Through its role as information source and marketplace, a newspaper should be a reflection of its audience, the community it serves.
What are the circulations at the Independent Review and the Leader? Independent Review—2,900; Leader—5,000.
What are their publication schedules? Independent Review publishes weekly on Thursday; Leader publishes twice weekly on Wednesday and Sunday. We publish companion shoppers for each newspaper: Meeker County Advertiser (Independent Review) and Hutchinson Leader Shopper (Leader). Both have Sunday publication dates. We also publish two magazines: Zest (monthly) focusing on people 50 and older, and Dockside (quarterly) covering lakes and rivers.
Do the newspapers or their parent company have a mission statement or motto? If so, what is it? Though not an official motto, our parent company, BigFishWorks, lives by the philosophy that: We are the news leader and trusted business source for our community.
How many people are employed at the Independent Review and at the Leader? Independent Review—six staff: editor, staff writer, sports writer, two advertising representatives, office assistant; Leader—17 staff: publisher (shared with Independent Review), editor, three staff writers, sports writer, ad director (shared with Independent Review), three advertising representatives, two customer service, three business office (shared with Independent Review), two distribution, and a magazine editor (shared with Independent Review).
What is the most rewarding aspect of publishing a community newspaper? Being involved in the community. We report on and do business with the communities we serve. But we also live here, and we have personal relationships with the people in these communities that go far beyond “the job.”
What are your biggest challenges? Finding the best ways to use new technology that allows us to be more connected to our audience than at any time in the past.
What are your biggest rewards? Hearing from readers. There’s nothing like a call or note from a reader who congratulates us on a job well done—whether a story or a photo or something else. Even a call from a reader who might be disappointed in something we have reported has its rewards. Readers are our connection to our communities. They make us stronger as a news and information organization.
What are your top goals for 2015? Continuing our rapid transition to digital while maintaining our strong core print products.
What are your newspapers’ most distinguishing characteristics? Our commitment to local news. We believe we cover our communities like no one else does.
How do you view your newspapers’ roles in the communities they serve? We are both watchdog and cheerleader for our communities.
What is one thing you will never change? Our belief that local is what matters. Local stories, local people, local businesses are the heart and soul of what we do.
Phone: 320-693-3266 (Independent Review); 320-587-5000 (Leader)