For the love of print: Second ‘job’ pays the bills
For Darryl Wilkinson, running a community newspaper is a labor of love, like running a farm is a labor of love for many of his Northwest Missouri neighbors.
“It’s my farm,” says the publisher of The North Missourian, a 1,400-paid-circulation weekly he and his wife Liz have run for more than three decades in Gallatin.
But farming often doesn’t pay the bills: the Wilkinsons’ neighbors have a practice of taking another job to finance their passion for the farming way of life.
The jobs that pay the bills at Gallatin Publishing Co. are multi-state services that deliver targeted advertising on the Web and via print editions. The services help Realtors, auctioneers and car dealers reach customers in Northern Missouri and Iowa.
The local newspaper now only accounts for a small percentage of his company’s revenues, says Wilkinson, while the online and shopper operations are thriving.
In the first few years the Wilkinsons owned The North Missourian, a crisis in the local farm economy convinced them they needed to develop revenues beyond the borders of Daviess County — population 8,300 — to support their growing family. Working with a friend at the local RadioShack, Darryl Wilkinson began to experiment with early desktop publishing solutions. In 1998, he launched a website. “I taught myself how to do it,” he says.
His efforts to push into digital communications were not so much to reach readers as to reach advertisers. “We had to reach out,” says Wilkinson. “The post office wasn’t going to help us at a cost we could accept.”
So the Wilkinsons got an early jump on digital delivery of real estate classified ads. Realtors can upload their listings to the Wilkinsons’ website, then choose which listings go into one or more targeted monthly free-distribution print products. Later, the Wilkinsons added auctions and automobile classified to the effort.
Not that Darryl and Liz don’t love print. “I’m an old dog,” Wilkinson says. “I’ve got to feel it.”
In 2007, the Wilkinsons bought a six-unit News King press from the University of Missouri. “We needed color,” says Wilkinson. “Online interaction with customers drove business to that press.”
Although Gallatin Publishing Co. puts “45 percent of our staff time into news, which produces 10 to 11 percent of our revenue,” that’s still not enough to cover the news whenever it happens, laments Wilkinson.
Meanwhile, social media is creating opportunities for local competition in covering news. Some local people started a Facebook page called Gallatin Grapevine.
“To make money, we have to control the data,” and that works for advertising, observes Wilkinson, “but we don’t control the news online.”
The paper launched a Facebook page of its own, which had 1,032 likes in early May. Also, two employees based in nearby Chillicothe to work on the three-county shopper Ad Zone are experimenting with ways to monetize social media efforts.
The Wilkinsons hope the experiments are successful under their watch. All four of their children are pursuing careers outside the newspaper business.