Critical Thinking: Will Removing 'Democrat' From its Name Affect the Fauquier Times-Democrat's Circulation?
Posted: 9/9/2013  |  By: Nu Yang
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.