I recently published Issue 21 of the Hiawatha Advocate. I’m finding out what works and what doesn’t.
Some of my findings are not surprising, but others are more challenging than I thought they would be.
I think the interesting thing I have learned has to do with the people of Hiawatha, their habits, how they think, and how knowing those things will make this newspaper a success.
I started this paper not knowing much about business or how to start a newspaper. I’ve learned more than I ever thought I could, not just about the newspaper business, but also about people of Hiawatha.
I thought the residents of Hiawatha would appreciate having a newspaper of their own. I imagined that the businesses would be beating my door down to get ads in my newspaper and I could spend my days working exclusively on the newspaper.
But that has yet to happen.
Since I gotten to know Hiawatha more, I’ve learned there are three groups of people within the community; those who take ownership of their community, who are proud it, and do what they can to make it better. Most of these are the older folks, who are either retired or close to it, and are very community-minded. They love the community newspaper and tell me every chance they get. Unfortunately, they are in the minority.
There are also those who are in their 30s, who have children in the schools and like the idea of a smaller community to raise their family. However, these people (who are in the majority) are so busy they don’t have time to read the newspaper. They like it, they just don’t have time for it.
Then we have the people who live in Hiawatha, maybe because of convenience, maybe just because their homes happen to be in Hiawatha. They don’t think much about their community. They don’t care what goes on here and would just as soon live in Cedar Rapids or Marion. They are usually young and single, and don’t pay attention about what happens at the city council meetings or what businesses are moving in the neighborhood, or even what events are happening over the weekend. They are too busy doing their own thing.
When I started the paper five months ago, I stated that one of the reasons I thought Hiawatha needed its own newspaper because it would help strengthen ties within the community. It’s proving t be tougher than I imagined. I didn’t realize that I would actually have to change the mindset of thousands of people.
So here comes my biggest challenge yet: How do I do that?
Most people in Hiawatha fit in the middle group I mentioned. Busy families with children in school. I have to figure out a way to get them to slow down long enough to want to read the paper.
The older people I have talked to believe that many people in the community are not community-minded, they don’t actively participate in volunteer opportunities, or are members of civic clubs, and they don’t think of Hiawatha as their responsibility. I have written editorials about the subject but if people aren’t reading the paper, how can I get the message to them?
People tell me that everything is going to the web. That’s true; I have a website that I am actively sending people to. But I still think Hiawatha needs a printed edition, too. There are still quite a few people who like reading their news in paper form. And until I have exhausted every effort, I will do my best to change Hiawatha residents’ way of thinking about the newspaper.
Do I believe it’s possible?
Yes, anything is possible. But it depends on many things, especially if I can make enough to cover operating costs. We have already cut from 12 to eight pages and the number of issues we order every week, so we are saving a little money, but it may not be enough.
When I started the paper, I told myself that I would do everything possible to make this newspaper a success. I still believe it can be. I just hope the growing pains subside soon.