Community paper model sees success in changing media landscape

By Joseph T. O’Connor EBS Managing Editor

BIG SKY – From the late 1800s through 1958, throngs of Bostonians flocked each morning and evening to a two-block area in the heart of the city. They wanted the news.

Home to as many as 17 publishers at one time, Newspaper Row, as was called the Washington Street span from State and Water streets, drew crowds for everything from presidential election coverage to the 1912 sinking of the Titanic. Publishers hung large chalkboards displaying breaking news of the day, and at one point the Boston Post had 1 million subscribers.

The Boston Globe was the last paper to abandon the Row in 1958. Now, replacing the lost Row, are thousands of online publications, blogs, rants and raves of every shape. And downloading The Globe app is as easy as the flick of a thumb.

The media landscape is in flux nationwide, experiencing success in certain models and among differing readership demographics. Across other platforms, the word “success” has been struck-through with the dreaded red ink of the editor’s pen.

Yet the community newspaper model is seeing healthy growth, standing strong atop local and regional coverage, and replete with voices of their respective constituencies.

While newspapers with daily circulations between 100,000 and 250,000 saw a decrease of nearly 22 percent in newsroom employees in 2014, according to the American Society of News Editors’ annual census released in late July, small, community newspapers are thriving.

The report indicated papers with circulations under 5,000 experienced a nearly 16 percent increase in the number of employees.

Enter the Explore Big Sky newspaper, Outlaw Partners’ biweekly publication. Covering local and regional news, events and culture, EBS, as of Sept. 3, is the only newspaper in Big Sky and, as EBS Media and Events Director Ersin Ozer says, is on the upward swing.

“You look at that stat and the way I see it, people are leaving these larger newsrooms and moving to smaller, community driven papers,” said Ozer, pointing to the ease of communication in a smaller office setting. “We’re so cohesive here and it’s easier for us to jive.”

Ozer, who also handles the majority of EBS distribution, sees the model as a way to put the publication in front of specific readers and advertisers.

“It’s easy to get people excited about [EBS],” Ozer said. “I can walk into a coffee shop and tell them, ‘Here’s the story you want to read.’ And right then they’re opening it.”

E.J. Daws, sales director for EBS, says the publication’s success is also based on consistency and the advantage of a two-week exposure to readers. “From a sales standpoint, we see consistency but also consistent growth,” Daws said. “Because EBS doesn’t look like a traditional newspaper, that’s one of its biggest strengths. It allows for readers [to take] a deeper dive into content.”

That content has carried the paper since the early 1980s, a testament to the commitment the EBS staff has for the community, the news and the in-depth stories that shape the region, says EBS Senior Editor Tyler Allen.

“The two-week cycle of EBS offers our editorial team and contributors the opportunity to delve deep into subjects that affect our community and craft thoughtful stories that have a longer shelf life,” said Allen, who’s been on staff at the paper for three years, and contributed freelance stories beforehand.

“We’re going to continue to grow in order to serve the needs of the Big Sky community,” he added, “and report on the important issues facing southwest Montana.”

In the face of a diverse national media model, EBS remains committed to the same model of journalistic ethics, timely and appropriate coverage, and community dedication that drew crowds of business owners, lawyers, restaurateurs, and construction workers to Newspaper Row in the early 20th century.

The news unites us, and it’s here to stay.