"It's been an adventure unlike anything I've seen," Jeff Rapsis, associate publisher of HippoPress LLC, which is publishing the Compass, told E&P Online. HippoPress, based in Manchester, N.H., publishes the weekly paper of the same name (the largest weekly in the state), which covers arts, culture, and lifestyle issues in southern New Hampshire.
The Compass has already printed two editions. The first, an eight-pager, was published on July 23, less than two weeks after the Claremont Eagle-Times -- the region's daily that had existed in one form or another since 1835 -- ceased publication July 10. The paper covered a region that spanned the Connecticut River, and included the New Hampshire towns of Claremont, Newport, and Charlestown, and the Vermont communities of Springfield and Windsor.
"There was a feeling of complete disbelief," says Rapsis, who worked as a reporter at the Eagle-Times from 1989-1990. "You never expect the daily newspaper's going to be in that position, you assume it's always going to be there. For most of the former staffers I've talked to, it's been like going through a grieving process."
The first edition of the Compass was produced with the help of former Eagle-Times staffers, including photographer Jesse Baker and writers Kyle Jarvis, Patrick O'Grady, Michael Witthaus, Robert F. Smith, Joe Milliken, and Katelyn Harding. Rapsis expects the paper to include a mix of former Eagle-Times staffers and freelancers when regular production begins Aug. 20.
The second issue, published Aug. 6, was a 16-page broadsheet with a 7,000-issue press run. Rapsis went to deliver the paper himself to local businesses and saw the effect it had on the local community.
"There was almost a mob scene in the Big Lots store on Washington Street in Claremont," says Rapsis. "I was delivering it, and the cashier asked 'What's this?' So she started to read it, and there's a whole line of people waiting to check out, so they started grabbing it.
"Now, this [Aug. 6 paper] was the first community paper in a month that had been publishing obits. So people were reading it, and they were gasping, because one or two or three people that they knew had died and they hadn't heard about it. It just goes to show you how much a newspaper is part of the fabric of the community, and when it stops it is missed."
Despite the fact that the new paper hasn't yet secured office space, the overwhelming local reaction, and a series of long-term advertising deals have Rapsis believing in the Compass' long-term potential as a local weekly.
"We have a very successful model [at HippoPress] where it's not a paid daily, but rather a free-distribution weekly," says Rapsis. "The weekly paper, I think, is much more convenient, because people can pick it up and refer to it all week long, and we make it last all week long. I'm in the business, and I can't sit down and read the New York Times every day. My sister-in-law just canceled her subscription to the Chicago Tribune, because she says there's not enough time to read it every day."
But at the same time, Rapsis acknowledges, "It's like the wild west. No one's sure. But we've got a chance to do something to keep local news going. I loved living up there. I love the people there, and I hope the community will benefit from this."
By: E&P Staff A month after losing their daily newspaper, the citizens of Claremont, N.H., will have a replacement weekly, The Compass, beginning Aug. 20.