Acquisitions of regional newspapers by bigger and bigger media companies are the norm these days. So the idea of a small community newspaper still being a small business may seem like a thing of the past.
But not if you travel to Cooperstown, New York.
Here, the town’s community newspaper, The Freeman’s Journal, is still very much a mom-and-pop operation. It’s just as much locally owned and operated as many of the other businesses in town.
Also included is Hometown Oneonta, covering the neighboring community, and AllOtsego.com, an online news outlet. And today, the whole company still runs on small business principles.
Jim Kevlin is the publisher and owner of The Freeman’s Journal and its sister publications. He and his wife purchased the paper about 10 years ago. And though they did have to make some changes so that the company could become a bit more viable, Kevlin’s goal is to keep that small town weekly paper feel.
In fact, it has always been his dream to own a small, weekly paper.
After working at several daily publications in larger markets, Kevlin wanted a change. So he and his wife Mary Joan began looking at different weeklies in the region they might be able to buy.
It was by chance that he came across The Freeman’s Journal. Cooperstown’s weekly newspaper was established by Judge William Cooper, founder of Cooperstown, in 1808.
Years before ever considering the purchase of a weekly paper, Kevlin regularly read The Freeman’s Journal. It was during family trips to Cooperstown to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame, with a stop at the Little League World Series in neighboring Pennsylvania.
But The Freeman’s Journal wasn’t even on his radar years later when he was looking for a weekly newspaper to buy. Meanwhile deals to buy other papers he looked at either weren’t a good fit or ended up falling through. Kevlin said in a phone interview with Small Business Trends:
“I had started to give up on the idea, and then the newspaper broker called and he said there was a small weekly paper in upstate New York for sale. I kind of dismissed the idea right away but then he said it was The Freeman’s Journal in Cooperstown. I thought, ‘What are the odds?’ So, my wife and I went out there and one thing led to the other. It just seemed like it was meant to be.”
After buying the paper and relocating to Cooperstown, Kevlin started making some changes. Even little things, like having the paper’s staff (including Kevlin and his wife) deliver to local residents each week were a help. And little by little the company became more profitable.
But one of the bigger changes was building an online presence for The Freeman’s Journal and Hometown Oneonta. Kevlin didn’t even need to build a fancy website.
Instead he just wanted a site where the staff could add stories each day and emphasize bigger headlines so that residents could access local news throughout the week.
He also started a Facebook page for news updates, which helped to drive more traffic to the website. And, in turn, Kevlin says the circulation of the paper itself has grown.
But while he thinks sharing news online can be helpful, he doesn’t think that professional journalism itself is a dying field. This was especially evident to him after a shooting incident that happened in Cooperstown a few years ago.
The town’s residents were abuzz online with rumors about what might have happened. But no one, except the staff of The Freeman’s Journal, was able to share the actual details. Kevlin said:
“People like to say that they can just get all of their news on Facebook. But I think there is a role for some sort of professional staff that is available when big stories happen. I don’t think Facebook is going to be sufficient to fill that need.”
Currently, the company’s staff is comprised of just 10 people, four of whom are part-time workers. Kevlin himself reports much of the paper’s news, along with one other part-time reporter.
Though he says it’s a lot of work, he enjoys it. And he would recommend the weekly newspaper business to anyone who is hard-working and curious.
He especially enjoys the fact that he and his staff don’t have to deal with all of the corporate politics that often goes along with working for larger news outlets. Instead, they can simply focus on reporting the news in their community.
Top Image: Front row, Stephenie Walker, production coordinator; Katie Monzer, office manager; Tara Barnwell, ad director; reporter Libby Cudmore; consultant Tom Heitz. Second row, photographer Ian Austin; editor/publisher Jim Kevlin, business manager/co-publisher Mary Joan Kevlin; ad consultant Thom Rhodes; graphic artist Kathy Peters; ad consultant Jim Khoury