Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Small Newspapers with Modern Ideas

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Small Newspapers with Modern Ideas

Article excerpt

Newspapers competing on the three-island U.S. territory of St.Croix, St.Thomas and St. John are both operating out of new print plants

The three-island United States territory of St. Croix, St. Thomas and tiny St. John may be the smallest competitive newspaper market under the U.S. flag.

Certainly it is the only competitive newspaper market in which both competitors have built entirely new publishing plants whithin the past four years.

The smaller, older St. Croix Avis moved into its new, 12,000-square-foot plant last Christmas from tumbledown quarters that had been wrecked by Hurricane Hugo in mid-September 1989. The new, two-story building, about a mile west of the old quarters, sports the newspaper's name in red, and just below it the information that it was "established 1844."

Actually, its roots go back even further, to 1771, when the newspaper was founded as the Royal American Gazette. That changed to the St. Croix Gazette in 1801, returned to the original name the following year, changed once more to the Dansk Vestindunsk Regerings Avis - since this was part of the Danish West Indies - and then finally became the St. Croix Avis in 1844.

Today, says publisher-editor Rena Brodhurst-Knight, "we're hot-hot-hot," meaning that both circulation and advertising have picked up since she took over in 1986, fresh out of New Jersey's Fairleigh Dickinson University.

On St. Thomas, 40 miles to the northwest, Virgin Islands Daily News general manager Ron Dillman also boasts that his newspaper, owned by Gannett since 1979, is hot-hot-hot, having doubled its circulation to "about 16,000" in the last 13 years.

The Daily News' new, 15,600-square-foot plant opened July 29, 1988, and cost $3.6 million, "not including equipment," says Dillman. It is on the outskirts of Charlotte Amalie, on a rise above St. Thomas Hospital, and was desperately needed, Dillman declares.

At the old plant, in downtown Charlotte Amalie, Dillman points out, "weeds grew in the bathroom and a mouse ran over Rosalynn Carter's foot when she visited." The old plant, he says, was only 8,000 square feet.

The Daily News was founded by Ariel Melchior Sr., and J. Antonio Jarvis in 1930, and the senior Melchior took over in the late 1930s. His son, Ariel Melchior Jr. is publisher and editor of today's newspaper, having trained under his father.

Brodhurst-Knight's position also is inherited. Her father, Canute Brodhurst, migrated from his native Jamaica to New York City in the 1930s, married a woman from St. Croix, and in 1940 moved to St. Croix with his family and bought the Avis with the help of Ariel Melchior Sr., and Monclaire Creque, both St. Thomians. Several years later Brodhurst assumed sole ownership and ran the paper until his death in 1980, when his daughter was still in her teens.

The Daily News has been the dominant newspaper in St. Thomas for decades, just as the Avis dominated in St. Croix.

Today the prime battleground for the two newspapers is St. Croix, which is the largest (82 square miles) and most populous (52,000) of the three U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Thomas is only 32 square miles, with a population around 47,000, while St. John - 20 square miles and 3,500 people - is much smaller and is 65% national park. About two miles of water separate St. Thomas and St. John.

Brodhurst-Knight, married to a former pressman at her paper, says the Avis has doubled in size and circulation since she took over. …

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