‘Fireball’ ignites paper

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By: Lucia Moses

Wyoming entrepreneur, a classically trained musician,
finds the song of the printing press music to his ears

No one can say Dale Bohren is boring. He ran a house-painting business before he invested in a diaper service. A classically trained musician, he also managed a local symphony, and, in his off hours, played the string bass in a blues band.
Now, he’s playing a different tune. Meet Dale Bohren, community newspaper publisher.
The 43-year-old entrepreneur became publisher of the weekly Casper (Wyo.) Journal a year ago when he bought its parent, Wyoming Financial Publications.
While he may have some doubters among veteran newsies, Bohren says
running a newspaper takes the same skills required at his other jobs: sales ability, people skills, quality, and customer service. He likes to say, half in jest, that everything he knows about business he learned by painting houses.
“There’s really three common threads: the product, customers, and customer service,” he says. “If you want people to buy the product, you have to show them what the benefit is.”
Bohren lets the numbers speak for themselves. When he bought the Journal, it was a gray, six- to eight-page broadsheet with a paid circulation of 940. Today, it sells 2,500 in home delivery, plus about 600 on the street, even with subscription and cover price increases.
Bohren’s overhaul touched all departments.
To give the Journal a new look, Bohren shrunk the paper to a tabloid and added splashes of color. He increased the staff to 12 from three. He raised ad rates but started offering discounts based on ad frequency instead of size to encourage small businesses to advertise.
And he marketed the paper, on TV and radio. To get readers to look at every page, he ran random coupons for prize giveaways.
Bohren figured he could do a better job at covering local news than his competition, the statewide Star-Tribune, a Casper-based daily with circulation of 31,000. In the additional pages, he stuffed news about town elections and schools, as well as features about people.
“That’s a niche that was wide open,”
Bohren says.
The work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Competing in a class with 21 other Wyoming weeklies with circulation of 2,500 or less, the Journal won the Wyoming Press Association’s top award in 1998 for a series of editorials. It also won first prizes in the news story and government reporting categories, and second prizes in the features, sports columns, and photos categories.
Jim Angell, executive director of the press association, says the Journal’s success is clearly due, in large part, to its beefed-up news team. The new publisher, with his varied business experience, also blew fresh air into the paper, he says.
“Dale, of course, just comes in with so many new ideas,” Angell says. “Because of his background, he’s just a little different than what us old newspaper people might have thought of. He’s a fireball. His enthusiasm is endless.”
At this point, the paper remains propped up by the parent company’s commercial printing enterprise ? in the fiscal year ended March 31, it lost $22,500. But for March, ad sales were $14,600, up from $505 for May 1998, and the company turned a profit in the first quarter of 1999. At this rate, a confident Bohren figures he can make the paper continually profitable in three years. “It’s going better than I anticipated,” Bohren says.
Bohren, who looks at each of his jobs as a project, says his new role doesn’t represent a change in direction. But he finds rewards in publishing a local newspaper ? a sense of community, the power to change minds ? that he didn’t know before, a realization that struck him when he wrote a Father’s Day column. “I had people really respond to it,” he says.
Bohren, who’s used to being asked about his next move, says he intends to stay put for a while.
“I don’t anticipate doing something else in a few years,” he says. “I really like running this business. Like the orchestra, you feel like you’re contributing.
“[In terms of] community value, it’s really one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”
(Editor & Publisher Web Site:http:www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
(copyright: Editor & Publisher August 7, 1999) [Caption]

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