Abigail Collins
In June, the Fauquier Times-Democrat in Warrenton, Va. dropped ‘Democrat’ from its name because of concerns that newcomers to the county would believe the paper was aligned with the Democratic Party. Do you think this name change will influence its circulation? 

Abigail Collins, 20, junior, Emerson College (Boston, Mass.)  

Collins is studying journalism and hopes to pursue a career in radio. She is currently interning for WBUR’s “On Point,” where she will continue to work during the fall semester. Collins is co-program director of ETIN, Emerson’s Talk and Information Network. Previously, she was involved extensively with ETIN’s sister station 88.9 FM WERS, where she co-produced the public affairs show “You Are Here” for a semester.

So, you have this friend, we’ll call him Chris, who recently purchased a used car. The previous owner covered this car in left-wing bumper stickers. Chris generally doesn’t like to align himself with any particular party, but the price was right and the car runs well, so he made the commitment to the less-than-accurate portrayal of his personal and political views.

A few years later, having decided to run for town office, Chris has the stickers removed. Though many people in town already know him, and know his car is not an accurate portrayal of Chris, he decides to play it safe, to avoid misrepresenting himself to new voters.

Undoubtedly, this move will change where his votes are coming from. Though Chris’ views never actually changed, the way he is viewed did.

This somewhat lengthy analogy is a good representation of the situation that the once Fauquier Times-Democrat is in. Though executive editor Bill Walsh promises in an editorial announcing the change, “our news coverage will continue as it always has,” (Walsh, 2013) the decision to remove ‘Democrat’ was made with business in mind.

Being a local paper, the Fauquier Times-Democrat most likely has a solid readership base of those who know the paper for its content rather than how its name portrays it. However, new readers are not as likely to assume the paper is unbiased.

It is a safe business decision, on the part of the now Fauquier Times, to remove Democrat from its name, and it remains ethical as long as the paper continues to write in the “factual, straightforward, unslanted”(Walsh, 2013) way that is promised.

Their readership will change, particularly among new readers, however already loyal readers will not be lost, and the paper will represent itself more appropriately.

John Bodette, 63, executive editor, St. Cloud (Minn.) Times and Times Media
Bodette has been on the news staff of the St. Cloud Times for more than 39 years. He started as the wire editor and has held various positions including city editor, news editor, managing editor and for the past seven years, executive editor.

The content of the news report will determine the circulation of the Fauquier Times. If there is unique, high-value local content, circulation will remain strong under the new name.

The local editors’ decision to change the name (the brand) of the newspaper appears to have been based on input from local readers and community leaders. The local editors know their market better than anyone. If they felt it was important to give the newspaper a name that better reflects the direction of the news coverage, it is the right move.

There are still fine community newspapers with the words Democrat or Republican in the name of the newspaper. Those names are loaded with history and have become powerful brands in their communities.

In Fauquier, the editors felt the name needed to change to help newcomers understand that the paper’s news coverage doesn’t take sides. That is an important message.

Today, editors need to make bold decisions to keep our products fresh and relevant. Those decisions involve risks. But if we are going to continue to meet readers’ needs in the coming years, we have to make those decisions.

Circulation will depend on how well the paper serves the readers. Again, it is all about local content.

Comments

Name Change effects?

Dave Smith | Monday, September 9, 2013

The more pertinent issue being presented is really twofold.
Will the current readers be more likely to remain subscribers and will new residents, who by and large, tend to be non-newspaper readers, increase the circulation of the paper because of this hopefully newfound perception of an unbiased newspaper.
The answer to the first may be found in their own history, when Arthur Arundel had a mission of unifying all of his publications under the "Times-Mirror" identification associated with his flagship newspaper in Loudoun County Virginia. There were several reason why that never transpired, which are now of little consequence, but importantly, when the Fauquier community began hearing rumors the their Fauquier Democrat might soon become the Fauquier Times-Mirror, readers and civic leaders alike, incensed that they may be dragged into inundated Arundel with their comments and outrage. These folks, being a fiercely independent and proudly rural bunch, had no desire to become a part of, or even associated with, the suburban woes that were facing their northern neighbors.
Being an astute businessman, Arundel acquiesced and the Fauquier Times-Democrat flag emerged. Always one to learn from the past, that experience forged the beginnings of his Times Community Newspapers corporate identity.
The lesson to be learned is that while there was a lot of grousing, the name change was accepted and the Times-Democrat continued to grow. But it grew not because of, or in spite of, the newspaper name. It grew because of the proud tradition of independent and unbiased reporting about nearly everything that was important to county residents. Some the most highly read contents were what the industry was to term “chicken dinner” news, written by “correspondents” in the myriad small communities that made up the county.
So, yes people do indeed care about the name of their paper, but no, the name of the paper will not be an overwhelming factor in whether or not they read it. It is about content, content, content.
The second part of the question is one that plagues the entire newspaper industry. What does it take to make new residents – typically younger folks – read newspapers? You and I would both be multi-millionaires if we had that answer.
My experience however, is that newer and younger families tend to have far less sense of community and in most cases don’t even know their neighbors. The only appeal that the newspaper will have, is information that directly affects their personal lives and the Times-Democrat has always done that to near perfection, presenting news about youth sports, issues about actions that impact their taxes and of course, those things that impact the lives of their children and their education.
Those are the only things – if there is anything – that will entice young families to subscribe to the newspaper. The name of the newspaper is important to us, but it will not influence whether or not they will subscribe or even read the newspaper. But for those who just will not, the newspaper must be prepared to offer them that information in whatever format they will accept, whether that is on paper or in any of the many other electronic formats available to them.
Now, how to make money from that? Well that’s another whole challenge for another discussion.
Note: in the interest of full disclosure, having a prior long association with the Time Community Newspapers and Fauquier Times-Democrat, I will admit to some strong biases about the quality and content of the newspaper.

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