Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Smalltown Editing, Big City Managing

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Smalltown Editing, Big City Managing

Article excerpt

In many ways, the Northwest Daily Herald is the very picture of a modern major paper.

For one thing, it prides itself on being high-tech. In January, the paper became completely paginated. ISDN lines carry many of its ads, and at the moment the floors of its offices are being ripped up to make way for better computer cabling.

The Northwest Herald, too, does a lot of the things experts like to recommend in newspaper industry seminars: It has intensely local coverage. Editors meet regularly with a "citizens advisory board" of readers to hear complaints and comments. Managers pore over research to meet reader expectations.

Recently, the paper even split the managing editor job into two parts, with one managing editor assigned full time to training and development.

Yet the Northwest Herald is no major metro: In its most recent Audit Bureau of Circulations Publisher's Statement, the paper reported a circulation of 31,613.

Because it is located in Illinois' fastest-growing county out in the increasingly demographically desirable far northwest exurbs of Chicago, however, the Shaw family-owned Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake has had to grow Up fast.

"There are all sorts of competitive pressures at our 35,000, 36,000-circulation paper that probably wouldn't exist if we were located anywhere else," editor Mark Sweetwood said.

A trip to a convenience store in McHenry tells the story: In addition to the Northwest Herald, customers have their choice of Chicago's two dailies, the Tribune and Sun-Times; the Daily Herald from Arlington Heights; the Courier-News from Elgin; the News-Sun from Waukegan; any one of several Star Newspapers weeklies from Copley Newspapers -- and a clutch of niche real estate and automotive books.

The competition is no longer just print, of course: Only a few weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune launched Digital City Crystal Lake.

To meet these competitors, the Northwest Herald is essentially trying to be two things: a community paper and a metro.

"It's really a balancing act," Sweetwood said "We're covering 20-some high schools -- yet we have to make sure the Bulls and the Bears and the Black Hawks are being covered.

"On news, our reporters have to put on their community hat and their metro hat. When [a longtime sheriff in the area] stepped down, he met with us: He pretty much resigned to [our reporter]. All the metros were scrambling to get the story and we had the whole story right here in our building. …

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