Small town publishers: A consortium of courage Backup Buddies

December 10, 2013

By Ken Blum
Black Ink 

They’re at the top of the list of my newspaper heroes.

No, they aren’t syndicated columnists, war correspondents, investigative reporters or photojournalists.

Admirable professions, for sure, but for a group of heroes and heroines give me those lone wolves of rural small-town America; give me the publishers who manage to put out fresh papers for their communities every week of every year while virtually (save for a part time employee here, a correspondent there) on their own.

Case of the flu?—take doses of DayQuil and hit the rack on Wednesday night.

Power outages or computer breakdowns?—minor inconveniences.

Family crisis?—work it out after deadline.

No matter what, the paper will always get out.

Come hell or high water, the paper will always get out.

There are hundreds of American publishers who belong to this consortium of courage, and it has been an honor to know many of them.

Again, keep in mind these aren’t publishers who have the luxury of three or four employees who can get the paper out in their absence. If the publisher isn’t there, the paper isn’t there. And the paper has always been there for decades on end.

But I worry at times about my heroes. They may be tough and incredibly self-disciplined, but they are human.

And even the strongest of humans are fallible. They can get sick, seriously sick. They can get tired, more tired than tired. They can die on the job, a situation that, unfortunately, has happened several times in the past few years.

Especially for the latter case, who gets the paper out? The publisher may have all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted in his will, but he really hasn’t resolved this question. It just hangs there in the air, not unlike a father of a disabled child concerned about what happens to the child after he is no longer there.

Sometimes heroes need help from other heroes.

This is why I would like to suggest an undertaking for the nation’s state and national newspaper associations.

It would involve helping organize a group of publishers in the association willing to get out a newspaper for a fellow publisher who has no backup in case of illness, a family crises or even a sudden death.

And it doesn’t have to be set up entirely for these dire circumstances.

Perhaps a member of the group just wants to take the first real vacation she’s had in 20 years. The member publishers will get her paper out, and she’ll do the same when another member of the group wants to experience the world outside the county line.

Let’s say it’s called the state association’s Backup Buddies group—say five to 10 independent small papers in a group.

In today’s electronic miracle world, it’s more feasible than ever when nearly all papers are paginated and then forwarded to the printer’s FTP site—the FTP site doesn’t care where the pages came from.

Of course, a system needs to be worked out with guidelines and rules.

For example:

• Should the paper that needs help pay a minimal fee to the other paper to cover basic labor expenses? Say, $20 per page?

• If the paper needs assistance for an extended period, how is the work divided between members of the group?

• What materials should each member make available to other members—for instance, page templates that will work on the same software, fonts, etc.?

• How is news content and advertising forwarded to the aiding newspaper?

• How does a paper in the group take a turn as a back-up for the other members?

• Is there a limit for the number of issues the group can handle for a member paper?

There’s a whole checklist the Best Buddies group needs to work out and surely part of it will be a learn-as-you-go process. But the reward is peace of mind for each member of the group.

Peace of mind the paper will get out.

No matter what.

If this concept makes sense to any of you hero publishers of small papers, I encourage you to contact your state newspaper association. Ask the association to send out a notice to member newspapers about the possible formation of the group, and take it from there. © Ken Blum 2013


Ken Blum is the publisher of Butterfly Publications, an advising/speaking/publishing business dedicated to improving the profitability and quality of community newspapers. He puts out a monthly free e-mail newsletter titled Black Inklings. It features nuts and bolts ideas to improve revenue and profits at hometown papers. To subscribe to the newsletter or contact Ken, e-mail him at; or phone to 330-682-3416.

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