By: Laura Henning
GRIT, A FAMILY tabloid published by Topeka-based Stauffer Communications Inc., cannot be accused of sitting on its laurels. After 111 years, the publication has moved from Williamsport, Pa., to the Kansas capital.
There, it joins a 114-year-old more “newsy” family tabloid called Capper’s and Best Recipes magazine, both published by Stauffer, a media conglomerate that owns newspapers and television and radio stations.
Stauffer acquired Grit a dozen years ago; it is virtually the only owner other than the Lamade family, which founded the publication in 1882.
In its new location, the combined editorial, circulation and advertising staffs of Grit and Capper’s result in a more efficient operation, general manager Don Keating said.
“Before, it was hard to coordinate them when they were 1,100 miles apart,” he said.
Although a number of Grit staff members were invited to make the move, virtually all, citing family and community ties, opted to remain in Williamsport, the national headquarters of Little League baseball.
The combined staff of Grit and Capper’s, which once numbered 90, has been pared to 58. With many of the new staffers coming from the Midwest, Williamsport’s loss was Topeka’s gain, Keating said.
Grit executive editor Roberta Peterson said that while the move to the center of the country perhaps gives the publication a “more balanced viewpoint,” the tabloid, which has a circulation of 400,000, will keep the editorial emphasis that it has had for the past century.
“Good news underlies everything we do,” she said. With its accent on family and neighbors helping neighbors, Grit looks at “what’s right about America.”
“We have found our niche,” Peterson said. “How many places do you see positive? So much in the news is negative and that’s what turns off alot of people. Grit has been positive for 111 years and it has always worked. People want that.”
Dietrick Lamade hit upon the successful formula when he started the publication as a weekend supplement to the local Williamsport newspaper. The tabloid struggled in its early years, and Lamade dubbed it Grit when he realized that it would survive only through sheer perseverance.
That old-fashioned notion of American tenacity is celebrated in the tabloid, Peterson said. She became Grit’s editor after a stint in the features department of Topeka’s Capital Journal, also a Stauffer publication.
Grit, which circulates nationwide through subscriptions to residents of small towns and rural counties, is “Middle America,” Peterson said. “And that’s not just geography. It’s a state of mind and a feeling that Americans can overcome obstacles.”
A stroll through its pages gives clues to its readership. With readers ranging from 30-year-olds to centenarians, Grit settles most comfortably among 60-year-olds, Peterson said. They respond to ads that tout the “golden voice of Vaughn Monroe,” music books of World War II hits and arthritis remedies.
The age of the tabloid’s readers does not worry Peterson, who said the publication has a solid subscription base. But, to her frustration, its circulation numbers grow slowly because on average each issue is passed to five family members and friends.
Peterson said that now that the staff has settled into its new quarters, it will begin to look at new ways to market the publication.
Thirty years ago, Grit depended on more than 40,000 delivery boys ? and a few girls, at least one of whom dressed as a boy to get the job. Now, just 1,200 youngsters deliver and promote the tabloid.
In the days when selling the publication was the “in” thing to do, John Glenn, now a U.S. senator from Ohio, and other notables could be found hawking the publication.