‘I found my calling in life’
September 11, 2012
By Teri Saylor
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary
If The VOICE is king of local news, then its kingdom lies on the outskirts of Nebraska’s state capital, a network of 23 communities, from tiny crossroads boasting 25 residents to small towns of 1,500.
There, the grain elevators rising up out of the fertile soil and the churches that have become the centerpieces of communities define the lifestyles of residents who read The VOICE, the newspaper that connects them to one other even across such a broad landscape.
Linda Bryant, who publishes the newspaper along with her husband, Bill, can’t put her finger on the exact number of people living in her circulation district, but she can tell you that 3,600 families read The VOICE, which comes out on Thursdays.
The VOICE is headquartered in Hickman, NE, one of the larger hamlets in its region, about 15 miles from Lincoln.
The old adage “plenty to go around,” might be used to describe the relationship between the Lincoln Journal Star and The VOICE.
“The daily newspaper in Lincoln doesn’t cover the same news we cover, unless it is big news, like a murder, lottery winner or a state champion. And we don’t focus on Lincoln,” Bryant said in a phone interview from her newspaper office. “The Lincoln Journal Star and The VOICE are news on newsprint, but beyond that we have no similarities.”
To hear Bryant describe her newspaper, you might think The VOICE is a print version of Facebook, or at the least, the front of a family refrigerator covered in newspaper clippings.
“We both grew up reading Life and Look magazines, and even as children, we loved looking at the pictures,” Bryant said.
Despite their interest in publishing photos, even the Bryants were surprised at the numbers when they started performing a regular picture audit each week, counting the faces that appeared in each issue.
“I think the least we have ever had is 75 and the most we’ve had in one issue is around 750,” she noted. “That is a lot of people pictured; a lot of work; a lot of space. But it also sells newspapers. Teenagers, mothers and grandmothers love those pictures for their scrapbooks.”
The VOICE got its start in 1978, covering the news in seven communities, said Linda. Bill was the editor in 1980, and managed a two-person, part-time staff. The Bryants bought the newspaper in 1982, and recently the couple celebrated their 30th anniversary of ownership.
Today, the newspaper’s territory has tripled, and the staff has gone from two part timers to two full-time, general assignment reporters.
“If it moves, we cover it,” she said.
Linda, who holds a degree in education from The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was working as a health department inspector for institutions specializing in developmental disabilities when she caught newspaper fever from her husband—the extremely contagious kind.
“Bill was the journalism major. His dad was a sports editor at the Lincoln Journal Star and later sports information director at the University of Nebraska, and it was his dad who encouraged us to pursue newspaper ownership,” she said.
Bill was working in manufacturing when a spot opened up at The VOICE, but Linda didn’t get involved until the couple bought the newspaper. Through it, she discovered weekly newspaper work is not so much a job as it is a lifestyle.
“I never had any interest in the newspaper business until I got into it, and then I found my calling in life,” she said.
She also discovered a love for selling advertising.
“I don’t’ see advertising as a sales job as much as I see it as a consulting and helping profession,” she said.
Still, she finds it challenging to field a sales staff. She employs two “super salespeople,” she said, and she has been looking for a third for nearly a year.
“There are other things you can sell and make more money, so if they are super salespeople, they want to sell pharmaceuticals or copy machines,” she said.
Bryant also uses her state’s relatively low unemployment rate and the Nebraska Press Association’s statewide advertising network to her advantage.
“I use the network to place help-wanted ads for local businesses,” she said. “It is a great forum. People will be willing to move for a good job. We have been the leader in statewide ad sales for 30 years, selling more than any other newspaper in the state.”
The newspaper is distributed through the mail and through newsstand sales at convenience stores. The Bryants feel fortunate that the local post office offers good service for the most part.
Last summer, a beloved part of The VOICE team passed away.
For years, Glenn “Wag” Wagner had made a weekly trip down to the newspaper to help Bill Bryant’s dad, Don “Fox” Bryant in the mailroom. Together, Wagner, 92 and Bryant, 83, bagged the newspaper.
They were part of the character of the newspaper until Wagner died in June. He had worked almost up to the day he died.
“The newspaper was part of their love of life,” Linda said.
Fox Bryant still helps out from time to time, but it is not the same.
The newspaper covers five consolidated public schools and carries up to five pages of high school sports coverage. Two pages are devoted to school news.
The Voice also runs a special section nearly every week, focusing on homes and gardens, mature living, pampered pets, school boosters, agriculture, visitors’ guides, holiday shopping.
The Bryants are busy cultivating their online presence through social media and Web publishing. Their online newspaper readership is subscription based, and readers who want both print and online versions can pay a special combination rate for them.
“Some readers like to subscribe to both,” she said. “The benefit of taking the online paper is its search features and access to back issues.”
Times are changing for newspapers, but there is one thing The Voice will never change, Bryant said.
“We’ll never change our positive attitude and compassion towards the people we cover. They are our neighbors and our friends.”
Name of Newspaper: The VOICE
Describe your community: We have an office in Hickman and Bennett. Our newspaper has a regional approach to news coverage—covering 23 small bedroom communities within 5 to 55 minutes south of the capitol city of Lincoln.
Give a brief overview of the history of The Voice? The VOICE is relatively young; it started in 1978, covering the news of about seven communities. My husband was the editor and had a staff of two part-time ladies when the publisher sold the newspaper to us in 1982. During the past 30 years we have added news coverage of 16 more communities and four more school districts.
How often is the newspaper published? Weekly. Every Thursday.
Number of years you have been in the newspaper business? Bill 34, Linda 30.
What is The Voice’s most distinguishing characteristic? The number of pictures we print. We started counting the number of faces that appear in each week’s newspaper—I think the least we’ve ever had is 75 and the most we’ve had in one issue is around 750.
Does your newspaper have a motto or a mission statement? The independent hometown weekly newspaper for 23 communities since 1978.
What is your biggest challenge? Finding the right staff, especially advertising sales consultants. We hope we can attract super sales staff by being a family-friendly workplace, treating people as we want to be treated and hope that loyalty to us and a strong Nebraska work ethic will keep our super salespeople. One of our sales consultants has been here 11 years and one has been here one year. I’m looking for one more.
What do you love to hear from readers and customers? How much they appreciate how hard we work to get both sides of the story.
What do you hate to hear from readers and customers? That we missed an important event or that we spelled someone’s name wrong.
I notice you have a Facebook presence and you use Twitter. How do you use those tools and how are they relevant for your community and your newspaper? I want the VOICE to be progressive and offer the latest technology whenever we feasibly can, which includes posting breaking news; however it is still a learning curve and we hope to add more and be timelier.
One thing you’d never change? Our positive attitude and compassion towards people we cover. They are our neighbors and friends.
What is your background? I was working for the State of Nebraska as a health department inspector for development and disability institutions. My degree was in education and Bill was the journalism major, his dad was a sports editor at the Lincoln Journal Star. He encouraged us to pursue newspaper ownership.
How did you get into the newspaper business? We had only been married two months when a job opening at a weekly newspaper was advertised and I told him I did not get married to sleep by myself—he was working at a manufacturing job—but his destiny was to be in the newspaper business. Then we had a chance to buy the newspaper. I never had any interest in the newspaper business until I got into it and then I found my calling in life and immersed myself in the lifestyle.
Your focus is on sales and marketing; what led you to focus in that area? I enjoy writing, but I also enjoy selling or actually helping people be successful by growing their business. My customers know I have their best interests at heart and trust me to give them good advice, treat their money like it’s mine, and help them be successful.
What keeps you coming to work each day? I enjoy my job. My degree was in education and the newspaper provides lots of opportunities to educate people on all sorts of aspects of life, from health issues, to environmental issues, what is important news locally like zoning, crime, and the positive things happening in our schools and the contributions of people in the community.