A pair of small-market, local newspapers are in the black simply by doing what local papers used to do — report local news, writes Daniel Akst in the Wall Street Journal (9/25/09). The Register-Star of Hudson, N.Y., and its sister paper, the Daily Mail of Catskill, serve up "a rich diet of local politics, education, news, crime, sports and people stories." This success formula should be obvious, but obviously it isn’t. In fact, most local papers pay only "lip-service to local news while filling their pages with generic wire stories."
According to Philip Meyer, author of The Vanishing Newspaper, "big-market papers typically have a lot more local coverage than small-market papers. But that’s not the situation at the Register-Star and Daily Mail, where "the front page is filled with staff-written local news. Inside are local columns, listings of local property transactions, and, during county-fair season, entire pages devoted to prize-winning livestock, cakes and quilts … Also on page one: a daily ‘good morning’ to a randomly chosen subscriber."
At the Register-Star, it’s all done with a bare-bones staff of "just four reporters, one photographer and a three-person sports staff shared by the Daily Mail, where the printing occurs. A network of freelancers helps … but there is no copy desk," and the offices "are frankly a dump." The paper is family-owned by the Johnson Newspaper Corp., which has wisely avoided the kind of acquisition binges that brought down other local papers, and publishes just five days a week, down from seven. It’s not like the Register-Star is making money hand over fist, but apparently it doesn’t need government bailout money, either.