Print used to rule. It’s no secret that newspapers large and small are struggling these days. It’s a sign of the times as a younger generation is turning to social media as a source for news.
Another reason for the decline in readership of the local newspaper is that the demographics of Three Rivers changed rapidly in the past few years. A growing number of property owners live elsewhere and have little stake in the community other than the income derived from their vacation rentals.
John and Sarah Elliott — who as of today (Friday, March 1) have owned The Kaweah Commonwealth and worked as its publishers and editors for 24 years and 1,228 issues — have been keeping a watchful eye on these trends for almost a quarter century.
A newspaper is an expensive, labor-intensive product. While there is no longer a roadmap for how to be successful in the dissemination of news, the Elliotts are confident their new business model, which has been in the works for a year, will guide them into the next era of news in Three Rivers.
“Our first plan of attack was to keep print alive in Three Rivers by seeking a buyer,” said Sarah. “We take seriously our responsibility to Three Rivers to not discontinue the news altogether because it probably would never make a comeback.”
The Elliotts had hoped that someone familiar with the region would have an interest in purchasing the weekly newspaper. There were several inquiries but they never developed into a sale.
Not done yet
So Plan B is to move the local news online. The last issue in print will be Friday, April 12, 2019, six issues beyond this one.
For those who still read print newspapers, there will be an adjustment. But, overall, the Elliotts see limitless opportunity for expansion and creativity by scrapping the space (and time) constraints of 12 pages and, more importantly, the unrelenting and impractical weekly deadline. In recent years, these limitations have made for less news coverage.
“I have two dozen, probably more, articles and feature ideas on my desk that haven’t been able to fit into the newspaper or that we don’t have time to write up in a given week,” continued Sarah. “Over the years, that adds up to thousands of items that never made it to print.”
Not having to fit articles, photos, features, and advertisements into a limited amount of space by a certain time each week creates infinite possibilities. It can mean going more in-depth, for sure, but more importantly, it will mean more news. In addition, there will be video content, interactive ads, visitor information and guides, interviews, special features and reports, instant feedback from readers, and a global audience reach.
The latter will appeal to TKC advertisers. A new, improved website will be unveiled soon that will be compatible on all devices — desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones — and there will be ample opportunities for advertisers.
Advertisements will appear in multiple locations online and be the foundation of a business directory, which will categorize ads according to the services offered for ease of use. Ads will also appear in regular email correspondence.
According to recent research:
—Online news sites have an ever-growing audience. More and more people visit newspaper websites every day. The more visits, the more eyes are on an advertisement.
—An audience that makes more purchases is reached through online sites. Studies show that online audiences are more likely to make purchases in a wide variety of categories, including real estate, entertainment, financial, home, travel, and more.
—Online news sites reach local consumers by making the advertising personal and relevant to the area. A business benefits when consumers find these local goods and services online, and the more time users spend on the local news site, the more chance of an advertisement piquing their interest.
—The online version of news is immediately accessible and convenient. It doesn’t sit home on the coffee table. It is available via mobile device no matter where someone happens to be, from the breakroom to waiting for a flight to standing in line at the DMV.
A new way of news delivery
An extensive email list is being compiled that will be used to communicate with readers. A weekly email will be sent with a summary of the week’s news and events.
But emails will also be delivered on an as-needed or breaking-news basis. For instance, during the government shutdown last December-January, when Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks opened, then closed, then opened, then expanded services, the weekly Commonwealth wasn’t able to be current because actions were occurring late on Thursdays or on Fridays.
By this time, the newspaper was completed for the week, so each week’s reporting was talking about something that had occurred seven or eight days previously. In these days of instantaneous communication, attempting to keep Three Rivers residents and visitors up-to-date and in the know has been at times frustrating.
Same scenario with the storm system that caused the Generals Highway in Sequoia to open and close and reopen and re-close during the Presidents Day weekend of February 15-18. In the new business platform, those on the email list will receive real-time updates of events, not just read about it happening the week after it occurred. The new online platform will truly be news you can use right here, right now.
We’re not done yet
Last year, the Elliotts created a new business plan that has been honed and expanded since then. Recent analyses of finances proves the overhead of continuing to publish the print newspaper as-is doesn’t pencil out.
Ceasing publication of the Commonwealth altogether would be the easiest alternative. When John and Sarah started this venture, they were 44 and 36, respectively, and had two young children. They are now on either side of the 60s.
Publishing a weekly newspaper is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard. And exhausting.
However, John and Sarah are committed to moving Three Rivers forward into the digital age while maintaining their commitment to keeping the community informed. They have a wealth of knowledge of Three Rivers and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and they remain healthy and active and continue to enjoy exploring the region to bring back the stories and images.
“We want everyone to join us on this journey,” said Sarah. “It is going to be epic, the new website is shaping up to be a work of art, and we are gathering a creative team of people who will be contributing to the success of this new digital adventure.”
For now, keep reading for updates on the transition. To meet the team and be a part of this new generation of Three Rivers news, sign up for the email list; type EMAIL in the subject line.
And They Lived Happily Ever After.
(Not) The End