‘I’m old school, but I really embrace the digital media’
July 3, 2013
Herald-Progress moves to the ‘Center of the Universe’
By Teri Saylor
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary
The Herald-Progress made big news when it returned to its former headquarters in the heart of Ashland, VA, on May 1.
Among the announcements for open-air concerts, street parties, musical shows, swimming pool openings and public meetings, the newspaper was featured in “On Track,” the Town of Ashland’s newsletter.
The headline reads “Herald-Progress returns to town.”
It was as if The Herald-News was a prodigal son returning home after a long journey.
In fact, the newspaper had not traveled far. In 1991, it simply moved from its downtown location to an industrial park on the edge of town. Other papers around the country had done the same thing in those days.
Some people might argue that the newspaper’s move back into its former building was destiny. After all, the building had long been called “The Herald-Progress Building,” and the owner had never even removed the newspaper’s name from the street-facing wall.
For publisher Bill Trimble and owner, Lakeway Publishers, the move simply made sense.
The company had sold the newspaper’s outdated press years before, and needed less space. A chiropractor owns the old Herald-Progress building and had some space available to lease to the newspaper.
Leasing suits Trimble fine.
“We don’t need the whole building, anyway,” he says, as he laughs.
“People used to go to the building all the time to look for the newspaper since its name was on the front,” he says.
The Herald-Progress building is legendary and said to be haunted, according to Trimble. It was a former jail, and as the story goes, the police chief died there and his ghost haunts the building.
Trimble has neither heard chains rattling nor seen spooky specters, but he has noticed a big uptick in foot traffic and live visitors to the newspaper.
The Town of Ashland calls itself “The Center of the Universe,” and serves up a heap of small-town charm.
Ashland is a walking town with a vibrant community spirit. It is the kind of town that has music on Friday nights behind the library all summer long.
Settled between Richmond and Washington along I-95, Ashland is nestled up against a major metro area, but it feels like a neighborly community—a community that loves its weekly newspaper.
“Since we moved back, people have stopped by to buy ads and pay their subscriptions in person,” Trimble says. “We are convenient.”
Community newspapers are known for being the first stop on the hunters’ route when they bag their big deer trophies. At community newspapers such as the Herald-Progress, reporters and photographers are often interrupted in the middle of a deadline to admire and photograph vegetables—a potato that looks like Jesus or a zucchini squash as large as a watermelon.
Sometimes residents stop by with story ideas. Sometimes they file complaints.
But mostly, when someone drops by their local newspaper, they just want to sit for a spell and chat.
Those things are hard to do when the local newspaper is located in an industrial park, or out on the edge of town, but now that The Herald-Progress has moved back to the heart of Ashland, folks don’t hesitate to drop in.
“The residents here think folks who run newspapers know everything, so if they have questions, they stop in and ask us,” he says. “This tells us newspapers are still doing OK. We are still part of this community, and our residents consider their community newspaper is their franchise. They still care about us. Even when they complain, we know they care about us.”
While their move back to downtown is still fresh, Trimble is convinced the new location will lead to more personal interaction and personal involvement and makes the readers seem like a close-knit family.
“When we print something, we face the people we write about every day,” Trimble says. “That’s the unique aspect of working for a community newspaper located in the middle of town. We get immediate feedback. There is a stronger, personal relationship between us and our readers. They still drop by the newspaper with things for us to photograph. They still love to see their names and pictures in the newspaper, and they still question who gave the newspaper permission to put their names in the paper when they get arrested.”
Like most community newspapers, The Herald-Progress is absolutely local.
“We cover our county as thoroughly as possible,” Trimble says. “Chicken dinner coverage is still as important as ever in small communities.”
And as close as the newspaper is to Richmond, the state capital, The Herald-Progress does not cover state government news unless it involves Ashland in some way.
The Herald-Progress’ circulation is around 7,500. Subscribers receive their newspapers through the mail, and single copies are available in a variety of outlets around town.
Now that the newspaper has moved back to the heart of Ashland, some readers, even subscribers, like their Herald-Progress editions hot off the press and drop by the paper to pick up a copy on Thursdays.
Trimble adds up his years in the newspaper business and is shocked when he settles on 40.
He started out as an intern at the Virginia Press Association and has worked at newspapers in many places around the country including North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
He has been with Lakeway for six years and serves as publisher for six of Lakeway’s newspapers, including The Herald-Progress.
The newspaper business is all he has ever known, and that’s why he has stayed in it so long.
“I have been around long enough to make mistakes and then learn from them,” he says. “I have a lot of faith that newspapers will be around a long time, maybe in a different format, though. As an industry, we’ve woken up. We are finally realizing if we don’t evolve, we will die.”
Lakeway Publications is evolving and embracing digital media. And for Trimble, a publisher with four decades of newspapering under his belt, embracing the internet, blogs and social media is a big deal.
He shrugs off the proverbial old-school fear and loathing of online journalism and maintains an adventurous attitude, or a will to survive at all costs.
“I look at digital media as an extension of our core product,” he says. “I’m old school, but I really embrace the digital media. It’s great.”
The Herald-Progress has developed a strong website.
“We had 58,000 visitors last month, including 12,000 unique Internet Protocols (IPs),” Trimble says. “We update the website every day, and the traffic peaks on Thursdays (the newspaper’s publication day). The key to getting our numbers up is to keep it fresh all the time.”
The newspaper supports a combination of pay walls and free content on its website. Subscribers who buy the print paper can get the online version as a value added, or purchase the online newspaper separately.
“The Internet helps us take our weekly to a daily,” Trimble says. “The way to get young readers interested in the newspaper is through digital media. A majority of our loyal readers like having the newspaper in hand, but we can attract new and younger readers through digital media and increase our readership in multiple ways.”
In addition to its website, The Herald-Progress is on Facebook with 630 friends.
“We need to embrace digital media and not fear it,” Trimble says. “We need to take opportunities and make them work for us. We are now in the information business and not so much in the print business.”
About the little issue of revenues, Trimble is philosophical, but practical.
“Our biggest frustration is we can’t get the same revenues out of digital as we did from print, but then again, it doesn’t cost a lot to print on line,” he says. “It’s a balancing game. Computers and software cost, but not as much as newsprint and ink. Newspapers have accountability, editing and fact-checking going for them, and we know that not everything on the Internet is not reliable. We maintain our integrity, and that’s what we do best.”
Trimble does not know much about the history of The Herald-Progress.
“Its history dates back to 1881, but it has gone through numerous name changes and owners since then,” he says.
Trimble also does not know when the newspaper moved into the historic Herald-Progress building the first time, years ago, but the town’s warm reception makes him realize the recent move back was a good one. After all, he would agree that location is everything.
“I wanted to come back to the center of the universe,” he says.
Newspaper Name: The Herald-Progress.
Publisher: Bill Trimble.
What is The Herald-Progress’ most distinguishing characteristic? Local government reporting that is fair but pulls no punches.
What is the newspaper’s circulation? 7,527.
Frequency of publication: Weekly.
How many people are on your staff? Seven.
What is the most rewarding aspect of running a local weekly newspaper? Having a real impact in the community.
What are your top goals for 2013? To increase our already strong digital presence, especially in social media.
What are your newspaper’s biggest challenges? Rapidly changing ways in which people get their news and information. Providing daily news and information with a weekly staff.
How do you view your newspaper’s role in your community? As the primary source for information people need in their everyday lives, including how local government and other events affect them.
What you love to hear from readers? “Good job. Coverage is fair and honest.”
What you hate to hear from your readers? “You made a serious mistake in the story/headline.”
One thing you’d never change: The all-local content.