WestView, The West Village, NYC community newspaper to which I occasionally contribute, recently parted ways with the paper's publisher. I mention this not to get into details, but to note that frequent staff comings and goings are just one of the many difficulties involved in keeping small papers like WestView afloat these days. A cadre of dedicated people, many of them unpaid, toil long hours to put out what is a continually improving product.
Feedback that I get tells me that West Villagers appreciate what WV does in covering the struggles of small retailers, as well as development and preservation issues. Readers want us to continue doing what we do. The paper is hyper local and staffed by citizen journalists, two of the features that media experts tell us are at the vanguard of post-crash, post-layoff, post-grab-the-package-while-it-lasts journalism. Unlike some new Web-only news sites, though, WV is not a non-profit fed by grants and corporate donations; it stays afloat on a pancake-flat cushion of ad revenue and subscription fees.
This post from John Temple, former editor, president and publisher of the late Rocky Mountain News, What local newspapers should do to survive and thrive in these challenging times, offers a 10-point roadmap for community papers like WestView to follow in this new age. Number one is "Start with the customers," meaning both readers and advertisers. What do customers want, and how can the paper provide that? Among other things, Temple urges local papers to give readers a public voice, and to establish a clear role as watchdog for the community over elected officials, city government agencies, and anyone else who bears watching.
Temple's advice seemed especially relevant today because WV publisher George Capsis had an important piece of good news amid the staffing turmoil. Thanks to an online and print survey that the paper conducted in December asking what the community most wanted in a re-development of Pier 40, the Hudson River Park Trust has scheduled an open forum to discuss the possibility of a green market on the pier. This was the top choice of readers who took the survey. To the WV staff, and especially its publisher, it was validation of the paper's work at a particularly low point. Congratulations, George!