By: Joe Strupp
While the recent string of deadly tornadoes that struck several Midwestern states caused extensive damage and death, they also brought a readership boom to the tiny State Gazette of Dyersburg, Tenn.
The 6,000-circulation daily, which saw at least 15 deaths in its circulation area due to the Sunday night devastation, sold out its entire press run on Monday, including an extra 500 copies printed in anticipation of the demand.
“We were selling copies from the recycle bin that were tossed because they were not perfect,” said Sheila Rouse Kelly, co-publisher of the afternoon Gazette. “We had to hold on to our last 20 copies for the morgue because that’s all we had left.”
Kelly credits much of the print demand to the paper’s continued policy of not posting extensive stories on its Web site. While the Web page offers quick news briefs on stories, including the twisters, it tells readers that complete versions are only available to print subscribers.
“I think had we had the stories on the Internet, we would not have sold out,” says Kelly. “We have gotten a lot of complaints from people outside the area wanting to get it from the Web site, I tell them we are happy to mail them a paper if they pay for it.”
Noting that dozens of calls and e-mails had come into the paper since Monday demanding web coverage, Kelly says the paper is working on a more extensive Web report approach in the future, but still plans to make it pay-only.
The post-storm coverage, meanwhile, has taxed the paper’s resources. With just six reporters and one editor, the news crew launched its coverage at about 5 a.m. Monday, about three hours earlier than usual, Kelly said. With no photographers on staff, each scribe had to shoot photos, along with the sports editor who pitched in with a camera.
A local pilot, meanwhile, took co-publisher Chris Rimel up in his plane for free on Monday, Kelly added. He took the opportunity to shoot some “stunning aerial footage” for Monday afternoon’s edition, which hit the streets about an hour early at 11 a.m., she said. “He just wanted to help the paper,” Kelly said of the pilot.
Although the tornadoes caused more than a dozen deaths and extensive damage to Dyer County, in which the paper circulates, the State Gazette’s offices and printing presses were not damaged. But several staffers were impacted, including the advertising director, whose home lost its roof, and one of the pressmen, whose parents and grandparents lost their homes, requiring him to miss work to tend to their needs.
Home delivery, which comprises about 75% of the paper’s circulation, was partially affected because two nearby communities — Millsfield and Newbern — were closed off to outside traffic. “We are saving their papers and we will get them to them when we can,” Kelly said, noting that about 20% of subscribers did not get a Monday paper because of such limitations.
Kelly plans to print an additional 800 copies of the paper today. “I hope that is enough,” she said. “If not, we will sell them out of the recycling bin again.”