Herald of Randolph succeeds in Vermont, The

Herald of Randolph succeeds in Vermont, The

Edelstein, Art

Every Thursday when residents of Randolph and neighboring towns pick up their copy of The Herald they know there will be a lot of local news, good commentary, and plenty of community happenings in their two section weekly. At a cost of 75 cents The Herald is a pretty good way to find out what’s happening in the dead center of Vermont among the towns in Orange County and nearby areas.

Guiding The Herald since 1971 is Dick Drysdale who took over the paper from his father John. In fact, in its 132 year publishing history The Herald has had just four publishers.

At age 62, a bit hard of hearing but otherwise sharp, Drysdale is not looking to retire any time soon.

How Drysdale keeps the circulation at 6,000 and covers 15 towns is no great secret. According to him, the key to success of a small town weekly paper today is “involvement in the communities and trying to make yourself indispensable.”

About the most earth shattering thing Drysdale has done in his 36 years at the helm was to change its name in 1989 from The White River Valley Herald. That was done because he found, “It was such a long name, and it created confusion. We were published in White River and wanted more of a Randolph connection.”

The paper employs 15 part time workers and a dozen full timers. There are also several staff writers. The Herald is printed at the Valley News in West Lebanon.

Big newspapers face serious declines in their circulation but small ones like The Herald, he said, “have enough of our niche and don’t have the competition.”

Location has helped keep the paper afloat. According to Drysdale, “the big ones aren’t trying to get the Randolph/ Bethel market.”

“Most papers get two thirds to three quarters of their revenue from advertising rather than circulation,” he explained. “We have an advertising advantage, the towns we circulate in are not covered by any daily newspaper. We are on the fringes of three or four daily newspapers so to advertise directly to the people in our readership area you need to advertise in The Herald.”

Selling large ads can be problematic here. Since national chains are not oriented to weekly newspapers, said Drysdale, they often do not buy space in The Herald. During the recent political campaign the paper sold only one full page add, to Bernie Sanders, and a quarter page ad to Peter Welch. However, some of the political advertising bonanza was made up with advertising from local candidates.

However, The Herald, like other papers of various sizes, faces a real problem, “whether young people continue to read newspapers at all.”

To keep youngsters turning Herald pages Drysdale makes sure “they are in the pages of the paper all the time.”

According to him, “It’s hard to graduate without having your name or picture in the paper. We have a lot of news writing involving kids and what they do and run personal profiles.”

Drysdale started as a daily reporter at the Springfield Union in Springfield Mass. after graduating from Harvard and the Univ. of Pittsburgh with an MA in Public Administration. He said he has maintained his interest in the paper these many years because “the entire human enterprise is diverse and there are so many people with many stories and there is a variety of things to write about. This keeps my interest.”

As the editorial writer for his paper he said his politics does not get in the way of selling advertising. “To my Democratic readers it’s obvious I tilt to the Republican side and to my Republican readers it’s obvious I’m a flaming liberal,” he quipped.

“I don’t worry about advertisers. You worry about being effective and you don’t want to alienate the readers. I don’t pretend to have all the answers,” he said of the way he treats issues.

Drysdale said staying vital as a local newspaper requires some luck. “You have to have a good town to run the newspaper in. The town must have some vitality to it and Randolph has it.” Randolph has 4700 residents but also has “a very diverse economic base and the cultural thing with Chandler Music Hall is amazing.”

Online publishing has become a mainstay at The Herald, which is located at www.ourherald.com. “We do it because everybody is doing it and we have to keep up,” admitted Drysdale.

He said subscriptions don’t decline with an online presence. However, the online Herald is subscriber driven and readers can’t look at the current week’s newspaper online unless they are a subscriber. The charge is the same for an online subscription as the printed one, $34 per year for an out of state subscription. The price is $29 for an in-state printed subscription.

Drysdale said there are 3,000 printed subscribers and about 100 online subscribers. “It’s not many but it’s very cheap to be online,” he said of the cost. “We pay about $350 per month to run our online paper which we do in house.”

He likes the concept. “Being online is fun, you hear from people outside Vermont and it’s nice to be part of an international community.”

The rapidly changing technology in the newspaper business Drysdale admits is “very tough.” While he said he is “not -a techno guy,” The Herald under his father was the first offset printed newspaper in Vermont. In 1980 the paper began using computers for subscription lists.

The cost of new technology is a problem. “They change so fast,” he said. “All the page layout and image processing programs are constantly be upgraded and advertising agencies always use the latest version of the latest software. We constantly deal with the way things change.”

With it all, he said, The Herald is “able to maintain stable margins in profits.”

Drysdale is treasurer of the Vermont Press Association. He said the states newspapers are stable. “I have concerns about the dailies but the weeklies are more stable. We are still around and healthy, no major ones have gone out.”

Copyright Boutin-McQuiston, Inc. Dec 01, 2006

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