By Jackie Kawalski
Before making the huge, costly mistake of consolidating newspapers, consider demographics. Joliet residents do not consider themselves suburbanites. Joliet is a city, not a suburb of Chicago and Jolietans are not Chicagoans. The Joliet Herald-News has been an integral part of Joliet for more than 150 years. It’s far more than a newspaper, it’s an institution, filled with human beings who care about the readers they serve.
Joliet is a close-knit community. A sizeable portion of subscribers are senior citizens, who demand customer service and like knowing the office is within easy reach. Many prefer doing their business in person. When calling, they demand to speak to a “live person.” They resent being transferred or asked to leave a message. Many do not own a computer or use email, and some have phone packages in which calling a 312 area code results in toll charges.
During the Hollinger years, the circulation of the Herald-News was approximately 40,000 — more on Sundays. The publisher at the time was a dynamic figure, who made a big effort to reach out to the community: businesses, government, advertisers – and most importantly – subscribers and potential subscribers. His efforts paid off.
The “Tyree years,” and the massive staff cuts and relocation of The Herald-News from Joliet to Plainfield, had a deleterious effect on circulation and advertising. Readers expressed frustration that the “Joliet paper” was no longer in Joliet. Circulation fell to about 27,0000 as the direct result of staff cuts and the move.
Returning to Joliet has slowly reestablished The Herald-News as a “neighborhood newspaper.” The office provides a place residents feel comfortable dropping by to place happy ads and memorials, and giving us press releases, story ideas and leads.
When The Herald-News moved temporarily from Joliet to Plainfield, we saw a huge drop in circulation. It should have taught us something. Moving the newspaper office to Chicago will be ten-times worse. Reporters wandering the neighborhood, seeking out stories, cannot compare with having a solid presence in the community. Advertisers will not feel as confident since we will essentially have lost touch with the very town we serve.
Though I cannot speak for other newspapers in our company, it’s safe to say that every community served wants a newspaper that has its best interests in mind. A mass consolidation of neighborhood newspapers will reduce us to the “Tribune Local” way of doing business. It doesn’t work very well for The Tribune, so why are we following suit?