George Gramlich, the Managing Editor of the Sangre de Cristo Sentinel in Westcliffe, CO, and his friends have been doing a bang-up job of reclaiming their local news market from the collectivists who have dominated it for the past half-century or so. I get his paper hard-copy in my PO Box to keep up on events, including the latest row from the lefties who run the opposing collectivist rag and their wailing over having lost the status of "paper-of-record" to the Sentinel. I spotted this article by George about the secret of their success and I pass it on to you as a template from doing the same thing in your areas of operation.
The Sentinel: Why, How and Now
by George Gramlich, Managing Editor
(This is a speech I prepared to give at the special Commissioners meeting last week. This meeting was set up for citizens to comment on the awarding of the contract to print the County's legal notices in the Sentinel (we were low bidder). There wasn't enough time to give it, but we thought our readers would appreciate it.)
I would like to spend a minute on why the Sentinel was started. Custer County is like hundreds, maybe thousands, of predominantly Christian conservative areas in our country that have a liberal newspaper monopoly. Why this has occurred in America is an interesting subject, but it is what it is. To alleviate this situation, some of us got together two years ago and talked about starting a conservative newspaper, with Christian underpinnings, for our county so that the majority of people living here would at least have a conservative alternative.
During our research phase, we realized that the 100 year old local community newspaper model wasn't going to cut it. We saw there was a reason that print newspapers were losing readership all over the country. They were boring and simply uninformative. Bowling scores, senior citizen lunch menus and white-washed, let's-get-along local news articles weren't cutting it anymore with the advent of the internet, talk radio and satellite TV. And we saw that for a vast majority of these liberal papers, it was Profit before Service.
We knew innovation was the key. So we built a new, fresh, business model based on a paid production and sales staff, voluntary citizen/taxpayer reporters, a commitment to reporting real community, Colorado, national and international news, an open and honest conservative viewpoint, a dramatic use of photo-journalism, and a utilization of the internet's enormous, honest, news sources that refuse to white wash the news like the traditional news outlets like Reuters and AP. It was time for a change and guiding our entire effort is the principle: Service Before Profit.
Being completely new to the business it was a rough start, but after only 18 months the Sentinel has become one of the most successful new community based weekly newspapers in recent Colorado history. We have met or exceeded every business goal and objective including readership and revenue.
Our volunteer, citizen reporters have simply been outstanding. Their reporting on local issues is fresh, hard hitting and written from the perspective of a fellow taxpayer neighbor rather than a paid reporter who doesn't want to make waves so that the paper doesn't lose subscribers. Boring, stylized, uninformative writing it is not.
Our reporting on our local government entities, the County, Westcliffe, and Silver Cliff, and Special Districts like the Clinic and Custer County Central School is extremely detailed, factual and is not afraid to report on controversial and contentious items. It is second to none in Colorado. Walk thru our school here and you can see dozens of the Sentinel articles and photo features plastered all over. That is community commitment. Service Before Profit.
These brave and dedicated reporters have informed the public, that even in Happy Valley here, there are problems and issues that have been buried for years due to a press that refuses to expose it.
Without these citizen reporters the public would have not have known of the absolute disaster that the clinic has been with its simply incredible mismanagement and poor vision that has resulted in untold wasted dollars and human agony.
Without these citizen reporters the public wouldn't have know that, in an otherwise excellent school here in Custer County, that the school is failing in its primary mission - that of academic performance. And failing badly.
Without these citizen reporters, the public wouldn't have known that the newest holy grail of liberalism, marijuana, legal and illegal, has literally created a war zone in the Copper Gulch area with Cuban and Mexican cartels, Texas biker gangs, and local thugs terrorizing the local citizens with gunfire and threats.
We are proud of our paper. After only 18 months, take any other local community newspaper and lay it side by side with ours. Our visual presentation, article mix, detailed and honest local reporting, our outstanding photo-journalism, our internet sourced Colorado, state, national, international, veterans, business, economic, political, and religious news outshines any paper I have seen.
Our non-local news sources are some of the finest available, including CNS News and The Daily Caller on general news; Zero Hedge, Karl Denninger, and The Mises Institute on business and economic news; Colorado Peak Politics, WatchDog.Org, The Blaze and Allen West on political news; nationals level evangelicals Bill Wilson and Paster Jim Modlish on religion and Colorado Chalkbeat and EAG News on the educational scene. I could go on but there are dozens more. People just don't read our paper and throw it away, they study it. That is called "content".
So we now have two newspapers in our community, a liberal one and a conservative one. It has resulted in a dramatically more informed public, which has been sorely lacking here in Happy Valley. It is a good thing.
A just a few quick points.
Some of the liberals here today who will talk are simply using this sealed bid, common sense, decision by Commissioners Kit Shy and Lynn Attebury as a foil to simply bash the Sentinel. They don't like our Clinic reporting, they don't like our school academic reporting, they think pot will save the world and saying the word "God" or "Jesus" offends their little hearts. And the list goes on. These aren't "concerned citizens". These are people who refuse to accept any opinion except their own, biased progressive viewpoint and wish to suppress any speech or press that doesn't agree with their views. And it makes them very angry to even have an alternate view available in the valley.
Our liberal friends seem outraged when we criticize their public actions. They immediately cry that they are being personally "attacked" when we are simply informing the citizens of their actions. It is a classic liberal technique to avoid responsibility by claiming that the criticism is personal.
Our liberal friends also seem to take offense when the Sentinel uses common, time-proven techniques of humor, parody, sarcasm, comedy and hyperbole to make our points. It seems it is ok for liberals to use it, but when applied to them, it is "offensive". Folks, if things like calling Governor Hickenlooper, Governor Chickenlooper, is offensive and out-of-line, you better stop taking yourself so seriously. I know it is hard for liberals to laugh, but come on, grow up a bit and appreciate some cutting humor.
There seems to be some confusion about how much money the county and our taxpayers will save with the Sentinels winning low bid on the public notices. There are two types of county based legal notices, statutory and non-statutory. Statutory is where a government entity pays (e.g., the county for a Treasurers Report) and non-statutory is where the county does the publishing but the notice is eventually payed by the taxpayers as the county will bill them (e.g., foreclosures). There is a different rate charged for each one.
If we use the figures provided by the Tribune for 2014, that of $3,745 for statutory and $11,534 for non-statutory, and the Sentinels low bids to compare (in each case, about a third of the Tribune's bid), the savings for 2014 would have been $2397 for statutory and $8074 for non-statutory, for a total savings of $10,471 for the county and our fellow taxpayers. Note that the Statutory notices are paid by county tax dollars and the Non-Statutory notices are paid by us citizens and businesses after the County bills us. Whether it is tax dollars or right out of our own pockets, it is still our money.
Also, it has been recently alleged that the Sentinel is overcharging the county because we are printing in larger type than what the bid specified. We have stated publicly and even in print last week, that we will be printing many of the notices in larger type so that the public can actually read them, at NO extra charge to the county or the taxpayers. For you Common Core journalists, we are billing at the bid print size and publishing at a larger print size. We have even revamped our website to post the notices on there for Free so if the thought of spending 50 cents on the Sentinel is a moral or ethical crime in your universe, you don't have to do it.
And finally, I want our liberal friends to hear this loud and clear. You can disparage our newspaper, you can mock the efforts of our outstanding volunteer citizen reporters, you can directly infer that my partner, Mary Seifert, one of the most honest and caring women I have ever met in my life, has committed crimes because she sold some real estate to her life long friend, Commissioner Kit Shy over the last decade or so, you can attempt to destroy our Constitution, you can try to take our guns and right to defend ourselves away, you can mock our papers Christian viewpoint and conservative values, you can even ridicule our God. And you know what? We will still pray for you.
With God's help, the Sentinel is here to stay, my liberal friends, so you had better get use to it, cause we ain't going nowhere.