‘We measure every inch of news and ads before we paginate the paper so they fit perfectly …’
February 4, 2016
Morrison County Record reaches nearly every resident
By Teri Saylor
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary
Boasting 99.2 percent market coverage, the Morrison County Record blankets its circulation area like a Minnesota winter snow. It runs deep, too. A recent survey revealed the newspaper boasts an 88.5 readership.
The newspaper, based in Little Falls, MN, published these statistics, along with its history, in a special history essay a couple of years ago, according to General Manager Tom West.
“If there are residents who are not getting the newspaper, we track them down,” West said in a phone interview.
“Karen Grittner, our distribution manager, has been with the newspaper for more than 30 years, and she does a tremendous job,” he added.
The newspaper’s online rate card lists 18,615 as the average weekly circulation.
The Morrison County Record traces its beginnings to 1973 when Carol Hoheisel, a former ad salesperson, bought The Rich Prairie Shopper, a small, eight-page advertising circular, based in Genola, MN. She changed its name to Farm and Country Record and then converted it to a general interest community newspaper. In 1975, she changed its name to Morrison County Shopper.
By 1982, the Morrison County Shopper had become a legal newspaper, thanks to special legislation enacted in 1980. According to the newspaper history, the Shopper was the first free distribution paper in the nation to receive this designation.
In 1989, Hoheisel changed the paper’s name to the Morrison County Record and moved it to its current location in Little Falls. She created a Web presence in 1997.
In 2005, Hoheisel sold the paper to EMC publishers.
According to West, many of the Record’s key employees have been at the newspaper throughout all the changes and continue to work there.
West attributes the Record’s success to the staff’s longevity and the culture of community service Hoheisel created from day one.
She had encouraged her staff to support local businesses and stay active in the community.
That culture still exists, West said.
“The staff is great, and they have made my job so much easier,” he said.
Rather than use the U.S. Postal Service to distribute the Record, West depends on a team of 100 carriers to deliver the paper into all of Morrison County’s nooks and crannies and to provide excellent customer service.
ECM is a locally owned publishing, printing, digital media and distribution center, which is headquartered in Coon Falls, MN. Started in 1976 with one newspaper, the company today publishes 49 publications. Most of them, including the Record, are printed at the company’s Princeton web printing plant.
“The Record has been published with a Sunday dateline forever, as far as I know,” West said. “We transmit the pages to the Princeton plant on Friday. The paper is returned on Saturday morning and distributed on Saturday afternoon.”
A typical workweek starts in the advertising department, where the staff kick starts their cycle with a Monday sales meeting.
“And then they are out the door,” West said.
Local government reporters are busy covering town and county board meetings on Monday and Tuesday.
The entire staff aims for a Thursday, noon deadline.
“That’s the drop-dead deadline for advertising sales,” West said.
Thursday is also devoted to a budget meeting, where every page is planned. The newspaper averages about 56 pages a week.
“We measure every inch of news and ads before we paginate the paper, so they fit perfectly, leaving no wasted space,” West said. “All 126 inches are divided into 80 inches for news and 46 inches for ads. The result is a tighter news package, and we don’t need to use much filler copy.”
The Record’s core advertisers are grocery stores, car dealerships and real estate agencies. A local Wal-Mart Superstore runs regular inserts.
The Record also publishes more than 100 special sections per year, West said.
Account executives are called “media consultants” as a reflection of their status as marketing partners for their clients, according to West.
The population of Little Falls is 8,300. The small town is just a microcosm of a large county where nearly 33,000 people live.
The coverage area also encompasses five school districts and dips its toes into the Brainerd and St. Cloud markets.
“With five school districts, our sports editor stays busy,” West said.
The Record has an active and engaged readership, reflecting a blend of liberal and conservative attitudes. The newspaper’s website logs about 220,000 page views per month.
“Readers like to comment, and sometimes they go at it, hammer and tong,” he said. “It gets hard when they try to shoot the messenger.”
West, who writes most of the newspaper’s editorials, says his editorial page generally reflects conservative leanings.
But EMC has a companywide editorial board that meets regularly and chooses an annual theme. The editors take turns writing opinion pieces, and every newspaper runs them monthly.
“Last year, our theme addressed violence in society, sparked by the unrest in Ferguson, MO,” West said. “We wrote about domestic abuse, child abuse, police concerns and other issues.”
Another editorial theme opposed a proposed constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. The amendment failed at the ballot box.
“That was a very controversial opinion, and upset some readers and advertisers,” West said.
The newspaper also devotes space on its editorial page to give readers and advertisers their say through letters to the editor. They run about three or four each week.
“We limit them to 200 words, and provide about a half page for them,” West said.
The newspaper is also looking at its digital and social media options.
“We are exploring videos, search engine optimization and other modern digital publishing tools,” West said. “We need to keep evolving. Our readers are a mixed bag, ranging from those who are tech savvy to those who don’t even know how to turn on a computer.”
For the future, West is keeping his head up and his eyes squarely on the horizon.
“There is always going to be a place for storytellers to provide information for their communities, and it’s not just about print anymore,” he said. “Delivery of information is up in the air, and it is an unsettled time, but I am optimistic.”
Teri Saylor can be reached at 919-604-0288.
Name of Newspaper: Morrison County Record.
Name of Editor: Tom West.
How long have you been editor and general manager of the Morrison County Record? Nine years.
What is its circulation? It is 18,615 with additional circulation of 3,419 of the Farm and Classified sections.
What is its publication schedule? Sundays.
Does the newspaper have a mission statement or a motto? Serving Morrison County and Surrounding Communities.
How many people are employed at the Record? We have 24.
What is the most rewarding aspect of managing and editing a weekly newspaper? As a manager, helping people with very different skill sets come together to put out a paper to which readers and advertisers are drawn. As an editor, serving the community.
What are your biggest challenges? At any newspaper, the staff is the key to its success. We’ve been blessed with stability in many positions, but when we need to hire, it’s always a challenge to find the best person to fill a job. Secondly, making sure that we maintain relevance for our readers and advertisers in a time of rapid change for all media.
What are your top goals for 2016? Meeting our budget by continuing to increase print sales while expanding our digital activities.
What are the Record’s most distinguishing characteristics? The amount of ownership that our readers take in the Record is higher than on any other paper for which I’ve worked. If we make a mistake, we hear about it. Even when we don’t, the feedback we receive makes clear that what appears in the Record is making a difference in people’s lives.
To what do you attribute the Record’s deep penetration into your county? As a free newspaper in a rural area, the Record is the only way for the entire county to receive notice of births, deaths, meetings, etc. We have an excellent distribution system that leaves little to chance. Also, over the years, our staff has tried hard to meet the needs and requests of the community. That, in turn, has driven up readership and the effectiveness of advertising through the Record.
How do you view the Record’s role in the community it serves? We strive to be a trusted leader, providing the information the community needs to grow and thrive.