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Small-town weekly embraces its niche

The Voice Newspaper is a weekly publication that covers five counties in southeastern Nebraska.

The Voice Newspaper is a weekly publication that covers five counties in southeastern Nebraska.

On Tuesdays in the small town of Hickman, Nebraska, the inhabitants of a two-story office on Locust Street go crazy.  It’s the VOICE Newspaper office and Tuesday is the paper’s deadline.  The weekly paper covers five counties in southern Nebraska.

­Finding a niche for a publication in the ever-changing world of journalism is crucial to its survival.  The VOICE’s niche is small-town Nebraska.  The paper covers events that the two larger, nearby papers (the Lincoln Journal Star and the Beatrice Daily Sun) might not.  Photos from soup feeds and church dinners and articles featuring local homeowners are published.  The weekly deadlines allow the paper to take on a more personal feel compared with a daily newspaper.  Reporters have more time to write their stories and interview sources.

“In a weekly publication, I feel the reporters make a better connection with the subjects they write about,” April Refior said in an email.  Refior has been a reporter and photographer at the VOICE for two years.  “Since we have a little extra time to work on stories, we can visit a little more.”

Aside from the extra time to work on stories, the coziness and small size of the readership area and paper is what differentiates a weekly paper from a daily paper.

“In a weekly newspaper, one person does everything for the story (usually), including writing the article, taking photos for the article and putting it all together on a page,” Refior said.  “It’s sort of like being a jack-of-all-trades, whereas in a daily, there are special people who do specific things.”

Refior has to write government stories, even though she’d rather not.  She also edits stories and photos, takes phone calls, assists with circulation and the paper layout in addition to the reporting and photography duties she was hired for.

The staff of the paper is busy all the time, Refior said.  On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, reporters set up interviews and start their stories.  On Mondays and Tuesdays, the staff begins to layout the paper before they send it to print on Tuesday.  On Wednesdays they fill out postal reports, deliver them to the post office and then start the weekly cycle over again for the next week’s edition.  The weekly cycle works for the publication’s readers, Refior said.

“Talking with our readers at events, they always say how much they love reading the VOICE and how our reporters and columnists do such a wonderful job​ sharing what’s going on around the area,” she said.  “Some have said they prefer to read the VOICE over daily papers because we do such a wonderful job covering the news.”

The style of paper also works for the VOICE’s readers.   It’s more of a social publication that attempts to cover as many people as it can.  It mimics the classic small-town generalization that “everybody knows everybody.”

In an L.A. Times article published in 2011, author Judy Muller wrote about the success of small-town newspapers amid a general decline of newspapers.  She pegged such a success on a weekly’s niche.

“It’s the steady stream of news that readers can only get from that publication — the births, deaths, crimes, sports and local shenanigans that only matter to the 5,000 or so souls in their circulation area,” Muller said.

Or as Refior said about the popularity of the VOICE paper: “One lady, who doesn’t know anyone in the area, subscribed to the VOICE because she said it ‘is such a happy little paper.’”

_By Sara Hinds

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