Publishers know the sting of declining print circulation all too well. The Pilot News Group, which includes the Pilot News, five weekly papers and two shopper products, was one of those publishers, but instead of shuttering their publications, they decided to combine them.
Last spring, the company (located in Plymouth, Ind.) sought options for three of its weeklies: News-Mirror, Enquirer and Advance-News. Not only was circulation an issue, but as was the expense of printing three completely different papers with such small press runs.
“There was talk of which paper do we shutter and roll the coverage into our daily publication,” said Greg Hildebrand, managing editor of the Pilot News.
Eventually the company landed on the decision to combine the newspapers into one new weekly product called the Heartland News, which includes many of the features and columns the communities were used to seeing.
Once the decision was made it took about four to five months before the communities of Argos, Bourbon, Bremen and WaNee saw the first issue in January.
In order to make this kind work for different markets, Hildebrand, who also serves as editor for Heartland News alongside assistant editor, Dana Draper, said that there was a concerted effort to cover the area as a whole, and treat each community on an equal and as needed basis.
However, covering four communities does present its challenges as each one has different needs. While several are very dependent on agriculture, one relies on travel and tourism along with limited industry and agriculture. School sizes range from one of the smallest in the state to a large multiple community consolidated school district. Government meetings often occur on the same evenings, so it could be hard to assign a stringer to cover them.
Something that the Heartland News will help improve is communication—“the ability for these communities to reach out to their neighbors,” Hildebrand said. For example, “We are combining events into one community calendar of events giving readers an insight into what is happening in the area as opposed to just their small community.”
The combined publication will also bring more businesses and advertisers together. According to Hildebrand, two of the four communities have no grocery store, which will create opportunity for Heartland News advertisers to effectively reach these consumers.
So far, subscribers have responded as expected, said Hildebrand.
“There have been those that were upset that their long running hometown newspaper was going away,” he said. “But there (were) also those that were looking forward to getting more than what they had been receiving.”