One Paper Offers News, Sports — and Tech Support, Too

By: Graham Webster

When a small business advertises in the local paper, production departments aren’t surprised when they have to help the advertiser get computer files to the paper in the right format. At the Daily Hampshire Gazette in western Massachusetts, they’ve turned that tech help into a new revenue stream.

“We’re kind of like firefighters,” Paris Finley, the Gazette’s information systems manager, told E&P of his three-person department. “We’re on call, so if there’s nothing brewing, we’re in care-and-feeding mode.”

More than a year ago, Finley had the idea to help out advertisers beyond the everyday image-management and file-transmission problems that concern the paper — for a price. “If the help seemed extensive, [we] suggest that we can help you here, but we might have to bill you for it,” he said.

After offering tech help informally for a while, the Gazette had a stable of about a half dozen clients, who would regularly hire out the paper’s IT staff to help with their computers in the down time when everything was running well in the systems of the roughly 18,000-circulation Gazette.

About three months ago, the service went public, as it were, with a weeklong ad in the paper, offering to clean out buggy or virus-ridden systems for a reasonable fee. You drop off your computer at the newspaper’s office, they fix it up in their spare time, and you pick it up again. The initial campaign was kept to a week for fear of too large a response. “There’s two things that can kill you in business,” Finley said. “No business, and too much.”

After second ad run, this one two weeks long, the service has been converted into a regular offering.

“We felt that if we could offset some of the cost and provide a service to our advertisers, something they needed, it would be a good thing for the paper,” Finley said of the original idea. “I think we’re just reaching that point now. Our staff has essentially been a staff of one. We went to two and we now have gone to three.” Plus, he keeps a “shortlist” of freelance tech help in case business overwhelms the Gazette staff.

Finley said the business is going well, though he declined to release specific numbers. He said this is partially because their tech help is unusually affordable.

“One of our early customers was a stringer, and she didn’t have a lot of resources, and she paid us with two home-baked apple pies,” Finley said. And that was enough payment? “It was fabulous.”

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