‘We have a small staff, but we take time to verify our sources and make an effort to get it right’

June 12, 2017

Times Community Newspapers of Hudson Valley

 

By Teri Saylor
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary

Journalism is in Carl Aiello’s blood. He was born into it, and for him, it is as much a calling as a profession. But Aiello did not walk through the door to enter his family’s newspaper business—he followed in his father’s footsteps.

Ralph Aiello, who died in 2005 at age 92, was a reporter-photographer with the Newburgh (NY) News until he retired in 1978. He was passionate about photography and won many awards during his career. For more than 15 years, his readers enjoyed his weekly “Camera Corner” column.

In a story published in The Wallkill Valley Times, one of his three weekly newspapers, Carl described his father’s photography as a “passion,” and he reminisced about the cold winter mornings his father would bundle him up and take him on photo shoots, seeking a perfect winter landscape.

Ralph shot thousands of photos during his long career. Carl has documented and digitized hundreds of them, yet still it’s only a fraction of his father’s body of work. With slides and negatives included, Carl estimates there are more than 10,000 of his father’s photographs in his possession. To this day, he still publishes his father’s images of the Hudson Valley in the newspapers and markets images for sale.

After graduating from Sienna College in Albany with a degree in political science, Carl jumped into journalism with his first job at the Walden Citizen Herald. The newspaper was ultimately sold and folded, so in 1983, Carl, at the age of 27, started the Wallkill Valley Times.

He did it all. He covered government meetings and sports. He laid out the newspaper, shot photos, and ran the business side. He found someone to help with his advertising efforts, and his father put his photographic skills to work in the darkroom. He pulled all-nighters and poured his life savings into a typesetting machine.

“People thought I was crazy,” he said.

He would go on to prove them wrong.

By 1989, Apple had come out with its line of desktop publishing tools. Carl was putting out the newspaper using an early Mac featuring a tiny 9-inch screen.

Along the way, Carl’s business grew, and in 1989, he opened the Mid Hudson Times in nearby Newburgh, NY, where he was born and raised. The Newburgh Evening News, where Ralph spent many years as a reporter, already covered that town, but it had been a Gannett newspaper, later sold to Thompson and then folded in 1993.

“We wanted to expand Wallkill to cover Newburgh, but we felt that Newburgh needed its own newspaper,” Carl said. 

Ten years later, he started the Southern Ulster News, covering a small part of Ulster County, Orange County’s neighbor to the north.

All three newspapers operate out of the group’s central office in Newburgh. When Carl was younger, he considered accumulating a large group of newspapers, but today, with three newspapers in his small group, he is unsure about future expansion.

The Mid-Hudson Valley area is steeped in history and culture. A traditionally rural area, the entire valley covers 10 counties nestled along the banks on both sides the Hudson River. The Hudson River Valley is located just north of New York City. Carl’s newspapers in Orange County and southern Ulster County, lie on the western side of the river. Wallkill, with a population of 28,000, and Newburgh, with its 30,000 population, are in growth mode, attracting residents eager to escape the high prices and hustle bustle of the New York metropolitan area. The Mid-Hudson area also is home to a population of “snowbird” residents. 

Carl’s newspaper group has a combined circulation of 10,000. The papers are printed on Tuesday night and distributed on Wednesday through the U.S. Postal Service and at single-copy locations. The newspapers’ e-editions are becoming increasingly popular.

“Our e-edition came in handy in March when we had a blizzard on a Tuesday,” Carl said. “There was no (mail) distribution, but our subscribers could read it on their computers, tablets and phones.”

Each newspaper has its own website, and all three are aggregated on the timescommunitypapers.com website. The readership is diverse with a strong population of senior citizens who are traditional readers, preferring to get their news in print. The snowbirds also enjoy the electronic edition, which they read to keep up with the obituaries and community news while they winter in Florida.

The largest group of readers is made up of families with children in school. Carl devotes a substantial part of his news coverage to school news.

Newburgh is a diverse community with a growing Latino population, which Carl hasn’t tapped into yet. He said he is considering a Spanish-language publication for that market.

Last fall, the Mid Hudson Times won first place for General Excellence in the non-daily, circulation less than 3,000 category newspaper division in NNA’s Better Newspaper Contest. The judge described the newspaper as “exceptional,” and went on to comment on the news and design:

“Great layouts from stem to stern, excellent photos and color, what appears to be thorough coverage of just about anything that goes on in and around the community, be it schools, sports, public events, meetings,” the judge wrote. “If much of anything was not locally generated, it was hard to spot.”

This was the newspaper’s first General Excellence Award.

“It is a good feeling to get this recognition,” Carl said. “It was quite an honor, and we had a party in our office to celebrate.”

Carl, who has just four full-time employees on the editorial side and a single full-time and one part-time employee in advertising for all three newspapers, still does most of the design and layout, some of the writing and most of the weekend event coverage. He also sells ads and helps deliver newspapers to some of the stores that sell them.

Early last spring, he was hampered by a skiing injury—he broke his ankle—but he managed to work from home and keep up with his duties, thanks to technology. Carl takes pride in putting out a product that is the most reliable and accurate source of local news in his region.

“We have a small staff, but we take time to verify our sources and make an effort to get it right,” he said.

The Southern Hudson Valley has seen tough times lately, like much of the northeast, Carl said. Its close proximity to New York City had made it a drug pipeline in recent years. But fortune is turning around. Small businesses are popping up and local retail is on the rise.

“People are discovering Newburgh,” he said. “They are moving here from the city and fixing up old houses and starting small businesses. They are our target market. As the community grows, we are working with new businesses and helping them get off the ground.”

Over the years, as the business climate rose and fell, Carl’s newspapers managed to adapt. Today, his staff is smaller than it was 10 years ago, but technology has helped fill in the gaps. He uses Facebook to post news teasers, event updates and breaking news. The free portion of the company’s website carries a limited number of stories, and Carl uses his electronic tools to steer people to the print product.

“Social media is still an evolving process, and we’re looking for ways to make better use of it,” he said. “Print is still vital and our main product. The printed paper is what readers look for on Wednesdays.”

He still uses community correspondents, local writers who focus on community events, often from a personal viewpoint on the day-to-day lives and interactions of the people and places in their community, and they are popular features of all three newspapers.

“Our bread and butter coverage is made up of those stories other newspapers don’t cover well, such as local news, town councils and local boards,” he said.

One of Carl’s favorite local events is a special annual outdoor concert by the Newburgh Symphony, where children are invited to take turns conducting the orchestra. It’s a popular program and a popular annual feature in the Mid Hudson Times.

“The participating kids get a set of chopsticks and a two-minute lesson on conducting,” Carl said. “Then they are paraded in front of the orchestra for their 10 seconds of fame.”

Over the nearly 35 years Carl has published his newspapers, he has enjoyed the good times and made it through the challenging times.

“The golden age of newspapers may be in the past, but weeklies are still vital,” he said.

At 61, Carl is still vital, too. 

Although he and his wife, an attorney in Manhattan, have no children or heirs, he is eyeing cutting down on his hours, but not cutting out his work.

“I’m not ready to go, and hopefully, people will want to see us continue well into the future,” he said.

 

Details

Name of owner/publisher: Carl Aiello.

Company Name: The Times Community Newspapers.

Name the newspapers you own and their circulations: Wallkill Valley Times–5,000; Mid Hudson Times–3,000; Southern Ulster Times–2,000.

What piqued your interest in the newspaper industry? It’s probably something I inherited from my father, who was city editor of the now-defunct Newburgh Evening News. Sometimes he would bring me into the empty newsroom on a Saturday afternoon when he had to catch up on work, and I would start clanging away on one of the old typewriters.

Can you remember the time you realized you had gotten the proverbial “ink in your blood?” I was working for the (Walden) Citizen Herald when I learned the day before Thanksgiving 1982 that the paper was about to be folded by the parent company (Ingersoll). In that instant, I said to myself: “I can do this.” The Walkill Valley Times was up and running by the end of February.

How do you perceive your role in the community your newspapers serve? People look to us for all sorts of different things—honor rolls, police blotters, obituaries, planning board public hearings. We are ultimately the paper of record for the communities we serve.

What makes your newspapers unique? We are as unique as the communities we serve. There is quite a range in demographics, from rural farm communities to a river city with urban problems and everything in between.

What are your greatest challenges? Finding and training staff, especially advertising salespeople, and the need to often be in several places at once.

What are your biggest rewards? Seeing the finished product every Wednesday. Somehow it always comes together.

What differentiates weekly newspapers from dailies (other than the number of times they are published each week)? Dailies are a different animal. They compete with many other forms of media and attempt to cover the world. We are local. As we like to tell our readers, “Your town is our world, and we cover it like no one else.”

Why do you expect community newspapers to continue as a vital thread in the fabric of our nation? Nobody else does what we do, or as well as we do. Social media is filled with misinformation and often tells only one side of the story. Only community newspapers fully cover a local story.

How do you feel when you hear “the media” and “journalism” being condemned in modern discourse? It’s true that for some people, that bias against “the liberal media” extends to us, but our niche keeps us from being overly political. In the villages we cover, and in school board elections, candidates do not run along traditional (Republican versus Democrat) party lines.

What is one thing about your newspapers you would never change? Our commitment to our community. That’s our footprint and what makes us unique.

How do you integrate digital publishing and social media into your business strategy? Our digital strategy is still evolving at this writing, but I find myself posting more and more to our website and on Facebook, both breaking news (there was a homicide in Newburgh today) and promos for upcoming special sections. The main purpose is to engage the readers and to drive them to the printed product. I see this evolution continuing: more breaking news online and more storytelling and photography in the printed product.

What do you expect to be doing five years from now, and how will your newspapers look? I’ll be 66, which means I will be at least thinking about some course of transition, but the newspapers will still be around—and recognizable as newspapers—for the foreseeable future.

Email: caiello@tcnewspapers.com

Website: timescommunitypapers.com

 

terisaylor@hotmail.com

 

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