By: Forrest R. Church, Publisher
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
Time flies, undoubtedly. Any adult over thirty years old is likely to agree. When reflecting back on life, most of us can probably testify that childhood seems like “just yesterday.” I can certainly take to heart when elders in my life make similar statements when reflecting on their youth as every day it seems like time flies by more quickly. As I approach my mid 40s and note how quickly our children have grown, it seems like I notice more every day that this short amount of time we have on this spinning globe is indeed a brief vapor.
While I tend to reflect a lot more on personal matters, I am blown away by the fact this August marked 20 years since buying The Advance Reporter and opening our original office in downtown West Unity. How is it possible? Two decades of publishing local news? I barely feel like I should be out of college and so much time is now in the rear-view mirror.
Lots of changes have taken place with our newspaper, which dates back to the 1870s (many mergers, name changes, and coverage expansions along with way). There is no doubt that more has changed with our newspaper in the last two decades than the prior 140+ years combined. Many of these changes were necessary to broaden our base (coverage area) in order to still provide hometown news, while having a readership (subscriber) and advertisement base large enough to keep our company running in the black.
Unfortunately, numerous local neighboring hometown weekly newspapers have closed permanently in recent years as aging publishers retired (nobody desiring to continue the hometown efforts), and more so, with rising printing and mailing costs it is very difficult to keep smaller newspapers operating out of the red. It deeply saddens me seeing such a vital part of local communities permanently close. I had a mayor one time tell me he looks at weekly community newspapers in the same light as a local library, school, civic clubs, etc. They are a large part of making a community, when they are gone the community is truly never the same again. I agree with his mindset 100%.
While we “rocked the boat” some with our mergers and expansions over the past twenty years to now covering all of Williams and Fulton Counties in Northwest Ohio, the equation has worked thus far. Lord willing, we hope to continue publishing local news ourselves for decades to come, eventually handing the track baton over to others in the future when the time is right for others to run the next leg of the race.
20 YEAR TIMELINE / REFLECTION …
2001: Bought The Advance Reporter, serving West Unity & Stryker, Ohio, opening offices in downtown West Unity and Stryker, Ohio from my former boss who I started with writing sports (photography as well) my sophomore year of high school in 1992.
2003: Residents and village leadership of Fayette, Ohio expressed interest having our coverage expand to their Northwest Fulton County community, which we did. We were now serving West Unity, Stryker & Fayette and also opened an office in Fayette.
2004: Purchased a second newspaper on the western side of Williams County, The Edon Commercial, while buying a building and opening an office in downtown Edon. Between the two newspapers we then served the communities of West Unity, Stryker, Fayette, Edon & Blakeslee, Ohio.
2005-2010: Business and organization leaders in the central area of Williams County, mainly between the coverage areas of The Advance Reporter & The Edon Commercial, asked us to expand to Pioneer and Montpelier. Unfortunately, publication in Edon stopped a few times over its rich 100+ year history due to lack of adequate support from the small village and, though we met with community leaders to strategize to communicate the struggles openly with the community, we simply could not keep the paper in the black no matter what we tried. With the desire of neighboring communities of Montpelier and Pioneer asking us to expand, while The Advance Reporter began to feel the effects of the downward local economic crash that closed many of our area small businesses, we made the tough decision to merge The Edon Commercial with The Advance Reporter, and to cover all of Williams County under the new name, The Village Reporter. At that time we purchased the old Ford Dealership in downtown Montpelier which gave us needing parking which was not allowed in West Unity and consolidated all operations in the large building we still occupy and operate from today.
2011: Business and organization leaders in the Wauseon area saw our coverage efforts and desired a hometown newspaper to begin within Wauseon. Thus, we started The Wauseon Reporter, and opened a local office in Wauseon.
2013: Like the struggles the former newspapers, The Edon Commercial and The Advance Reporter experienced, The Wauseon Reporter could not stay out of the red. While there was strong readership support, the newspaper was lacking base 101 advertisement support. Often when selling newspapers, we may make pennies off a sale, when it is a thicker printing week we may actually lose monies. Thus, advertisement support is the key foundation to our business. Despite these struggles, like in Williams County, other Fulton County neighboring communities to Wauseon invited us to cover their villages’ news. In 2013 it was decided to merge The Wauseon Reporter with The Village Reporter and slowly expand coverage to all areas of Fulton County as we were invited town by town. Thus, The Village Reporter came into “merged existence” eventually covering all of Williams and Fulton Counties in Northwest Ohio under the new parent name (2021) of Northwest Ohio Publishing LLC, formerly Williams County Publishing LLC.
When typing out this history, all I can think is, “What an amazing journey thus far!”
One of the many reasons I wanted to begin publishing local news two decades ago surrounded what I noted as lacking local news coverage when I was in school in the 90s. I noticed the need in high school when the bigger city schools would obtain all the athletic publicity, even when they were having poor athletic seasons, while the smaller village schools were often overlooked even when they were doing well in the wins/loss column. Big media outlet may have focused mainly on larger markets for P&L statement purposes, but overlooking our smaller communities was a mistake in my book.
Specifically, I recall in 1992 when our high school football team went undefeated, hands down the best record Hilltop High School had ever had, and yet the bigger daily papers gave us little exposure and we certainly never received any attention from Toledo or Fort Wayne TV stations. I recalled how that hurt. I recalled how my parents teamed up with other parents in the community, to no avail, to try to rally a Toledo TV to come out along with the larger daily papers to provide adequate coverage. This experience planted a desire in my heart to provide local news (and sports) in all areas, no matter if the team was 10-0 or 0-10. No matter if it was just the Boy Scouts doing a simple service project (fill in the blank – any of the small town news stories you have come to love to read in our publication over the years should never be considered “too small”). I have always wanted to place a positive light on why our little communities in Northwest Ohio remain a great place to live our lives and to raise our families.
As I wrote this column on and off again over a few days last week, reflecting along the way, I have largely decided to set aside many of the difficult seasons we have battled through such as the computer hacking incident in 2005 where we lost literally every file we ever made, along with of course the more recent government shutdown of our economy due to COVID.
We all have professional battles, and we have faced some doozies, but in this time of reflection and thankfulness, I wanted to keep my focus on the straight and narrow.
THANKFUL – LOOKING AHEAD
–I am thankful to our readers who partner with us by obtaining a subscription or purchasing an edition at a store (or the e-edition). It is amazing that while most newspapers are reporting losses in circulation we have grown, especially in 2021 (example – circulation now up 47% in the Swanton area from 2020).
–I’m grateful to our advertisers who market with us and help us provide this local service.
–I’m thankful to my wife who quit her job in the nursing home with good pay and secure benefits to join me back in 2003 for no pay and no benefits, believing we could build this business together and believing in the vision (ever since).
–I’m thankful to our kids who see their parents work split shifts and often working double the hours on three day weekends such as Labor Day as “the press must go on”. Though we try to spend time with them in the evenings, the newspaper deadline often dictates what we can do as a family, and they have embraced this lifestyle as part of our lives when “mommy has to go to work again tonight”. Our kiddos really are troopers and generally are very understanding when mommy or daddy has to be out of the home.
–I’m thankful for our current and past team members scattered throughout our area who have stood with us shoulder to shoulder to face deadlines and help bring forth local news, no matter if they are delivering the paper, designing ads, covering local events, taking sports photos or working with our advertisement clients to assist their marketing needs. Many on our team have the same heart and passion for promoting local news. It is more than just a job for them and I am thankful for their passion.
–I am thankful for the prior publisher of The Advance Reporter that mentored me, more than he probably ever knew. I’m thankful when he handed the newspaper over, he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Listen to the community but take no S*** from anybody. They will try to take advantage of your voice and try to twist your reporting into a favorable angle for them. Stay fair (neutral) in local matters, giving a fair shake to all sides and you will find success.” As I have watched the media in our country lose its character over the years with biased reporting padded with political agenda (both sides of the aisle), I often thank him for prepping me for what I would soon face in decades to come.
–I am thankful for the occasional positive reader notes we receive on how we make a difference in our communities. We often only hear from the .1% who scream at us when we drop the ball (we are human after all). The occasional positive note from the rest of our readership stirs us up to work harder.
–I’m thankful that God has given me this opportunity “for this time” in local history. I often reflect back on what other publishers that went before me must have experienced and as I reap the rewards of their past efforts, shoulders back, plowing ahead. I have often sat back with a warm cup of coffee at 3 a.m. and wondered what our prior publisher may have experienced in WWI, WWII, the Great Depression, past pandemics, past town fires, etc. When I may feel sorry for myself when having a long week or some other professional battle, I reflect back on just how small my frustrations are compared to what past publishers faced.
As I close on sharing my gratitude, I would like to wish each and every one of you a blessed Thanksgiving. May we spend this time reflecting on the blessings in our life, no matter how big or small. When we compare our personal and/or professional lives to the rest of the world, remember, we are blessed to simply have a warm meal, a cold drink, running water, etc. We all tend to be more blessed than we realize, we often take for granted just how blessed we truly are.
And finally, “thank you” for allowing me to serve the past two decades as your local publisher. I am honored and feel blessed to serve our local communities ….
Forrest may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org