Print journalism is over. They say everything you need to know is on the Internet. They say the masses of notepad-wielding reporters have all been laid off or become PR flacks, their roles in the media taken over by armies of bloggers who don’t so much report on the news as they do regurgitate it and try to cram it into a hyperactive 24-hour news cycle that caters to consumers with microsecond attention spans.
But if that were true, then why are you likely reading this article in print? What if the public still has an appetite for stories that can’t be satiated with 140-character Tweets? Richard K. Rein, the founding editor of U.S. 1, believes that reports of the death of print media have been greatly exaggerated.
Rein will speak at the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, July 20, from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. at the Nassau Club. Tickets are $40, $25 for members. The title of his talk: “Stories Still Matter — In Print and Online.” For more information, visit www.prinectonchamber.org or call 609-924-1776.
U.S. 1, the newspaper Rein founded 32 years ago, is still going strong. Today Rein (who grew up in upstate New York, one of five kids raised by an IBM service technician and a stay-at-home mom/part-time bookkeeper) still edits U.S. 1 and has taken on a further role as editorial director of Community News Service. Rein believes that good storytelling has kept readers returning to papers throughout the ups and downs of the newspaper business, and that the desire for narrative will continue to drive media in the age of digital technology.
Behind the Scenes: Part of the business strategy of Rein, and his partners — Jamie Griswold and Thomas Valeri, publishers of Community News Service — is to target those stories at the right readers.
Every week a small army of delivery drivers takes about 19,000 copies of U.S. 1 and drops them off at businesses, doctors’ offices, and lobbies up and down the Route 1 Corridor from Trenton to South Brunswick. The stories in U.S. 1 are targeted to the people who own businesses or work in those offices, and who might be looking for something to do after they punch out for the day — thus the dual emphasis on business topics as well as arts and entertainment.
If you are a regular reader of U.S. 1, you probably have noticed this newspaper treats local businesspeople and figures in arts and entertainment scene as celebrities, reflecting Rein’s background as a freelance writer for People Magazine in the days before he founded his own paper.
In 2000 Rein founded a second newspaper called the West Windsor-Plainsboro News. It also covers local topics, but it has virtually nothing in common with its sister publication because it is a completely different beast: a community newspaper.
Delivered to homes and published twice a month, WWP-News is aimed at the people who live in the community rather than the people who work there, and therefore has a vastly different set of priorities when it comes to the stories that appear in its pages. For example, one recent issue of WW-P News had stories about high school graduations, a school board meeting, a development in Plainsboro’s affordable housing obligations, West Windsor’s plans for a new post office, and many smaller items, down to a Boy Scout who earned his Eagle award. None of those stories appeared in U.S. 1, and rarely do these sister publications share content.
Where U.S. 1 treats Route 1 area businesspeople like celebrities regardless of where they happen to live, WW-P News is focused on the people who live in West Windsor and Plainsboro.
This dichotomy of interest continued as U.S. 1 joined a larger family of publications. In 2012 Rein’s U.S. 1 Publishing Co. merged with Community News Service, which published the Trenton Downtowner, the Ewing Observer, the Hamilton Post, the Lawrence Gazette, the Hopewell Express, the Robbinsville Advance, the Princeton Echo, and the Bordentown Current. These monthly papers are mostly distributed to homes in their respective communities by mail.
“That’s well over 200,000 print pieces passing through our offices at 15 Princess Road every month,” said Rein.
That volume of activity made the Community News Service partners rethink the first word in the company’s name. “While all our papers are tightly focussed on a certain community, we realized that a residential community desserves a different kind of paper than the one serving a business community,” said Rein.
The “Community” division includes the Ewing Observer, the Hamilton Post, the Lawrence Gazette, the Hopewell Express, the Robbinsville Advance, and the Bordentown Current. The content, often feature-oriented, is aimed at people who live in each town. School news and school sports are important editorial ingredients.
The “metro” dvision, consisting of U.S. 1, the Princeton Echo, and the Trenton Downtowner, emphasizes intriguing people and businesses, things to do and places to go after work and without the kids (or grandkids). “The metro papers are edited to appeal not just to residents but also to people who work in the community or are visiting,” said Rein.
“It especially makes sense for U.S. 1 since the paper is distributed though almost a dozen municipalities and it wouldn’t be practical to cover that many school districts. And in Princeton the school and municipal news is already covered by three other newspapers. The Echo is especially appealing to young people without kids, or empty nesters who have moved into town to take advantages of the cultural opportunities.”
The split has implications for anyone who wants to tip off the newspapers to a good story, or who wants to take advantage of the free calendar listings. For example, the editor of the Ewing Observer would be interested in a story about a Ewing resident who did something noteworthy, or a new store opening in Ewing, whereas the Trenton Downtowner editor would be interested in a new arts program taking place downtown.