The Little Newspaper That Could

May 13, 2013

While most newspapers are downsizing, outsourcing, assimilating or outright folding, there’s a newspaper in the North Country that’s flourishing. Two weeks ago the Colebrook Chronicle opened a new business office in downtown Colebrook. As Sean Hurley reports, business at the Chronicle has never been better.

Charlie Jordan and his family live and work together in the old Clarksville School.  The boxy, belfried all-white building sits directly on the 45th parallel, halfway between the warm belt of the equator and the cold nail of the North Pole. It was a dairy before it was a school and a sawmill before that and now it’s the home of the Jordan’s family newspaper, The Colebrook Chronicle.

"One advantage that we have is that we’re a family business. I mean my wife is the publisher. I'm the editor. My son is the video editor but he also runs our office in Colebrook."

Charlie’s wife Donna also does the advertising and billing. And writes an article or two each week. And has kept track of the paper’s growth since 2000.

"When we started out in the print portion, we were at 3,000 the first year or so. We’re now at 6000 and it’s not enough newspapers."

Their online version nearly doubles that readership.

And here we are now at year 13 going into 14 and opening this new office saying, “Maybe this is another move for us, maybe this is another expansion point…”

"I tell ya, I frankly get kind of tired when I hear about newspapers just wringing their hands and saying the end is near, the end is near."

The end is nowhere near, Jordan says. What is near is a new beginning.

"I think that we're in good shape with an audience, I'm talking generally the American readership, it's just the media has to figure out how to connect with them better."

And that’s the problem. The old newspaper dog can’t – or won’t - learn the new tricks.

"I tell people today that we are not really in the newspaper business, but we’re in the communication business. And I don't think that flow of information is any more in jeopardy than writing was when it went from typewriters to computers. You go where the modern technology takes you."

Jordan has been writing and editing magazines most of of his professional life. He wrote for Yankee Magazine throughout the 1970s and edited Northern New Hampshire Magazine for 15 years. When the Jordans started the Chronicle, they knew they’d be competing with the News Sentinel, which bills itself as “The North Country’s Hometown Newspaper since 1870”. But there was an even more potent rival.

"We knew we were up against the Internet, and the Internet's biggest thing was free. Ok? So our big thing in starting the Chronicle was - we are not going to compete, but were going to be part of the flow."

That’s one of the Chronicle’s secrets. Don’t fight the internet . Put the whole paper online and make it free. Let advertising be the moneymaker.

"I would say forget about covering national news, leave that to CNN, leave that to the New York Times. Say “What's my territory?” And know that territory and become present in that territory and part of that community and that's what we try to do ."

The staff of 7 includes a Canadian correspondent. Everyone on the Chronicle is a reporter, photographer, paperboy, or potential anything.

Tommy Jordan is 23. He’s been working with his parents since he was 13. He used to bring a camera to school and take photos of class events.

"I loved being being born and raised here and I like to tell the story of it. I like to tell the story of small-town New England."

Now Tommy Jordan runs the downtown office and puts together and scores the weekly video news broadcast.

"I'm able to produce music. You know, I'm able to put together little themes for things. Oh, here's a sports theme, here's a breaking news theme."

At the Chronicle, there’s a great deal of role blur between the who and the what. Like a busy farm, they all do what needs to be done.

While the Chronicle may be here for the long term, what a paper actually is may never stop changing. Tommy Jordan wonders if the Chronicle will become more video based. Donna Jordan thinks the paper will shift increasingly online. But whatever form or forms or formlessness it takes, Charlie Jordan says that the mission of a small paper like the Chronicle won’t change

"A small newspaper really, if it's successful, is holding a mirror up to the public and saying “this is you .”

The days when paperboys tossed folded pulp into the rhododendrons in the early morning hours may be over. But from their old schoolhouse, midway between the equator and the North Pole, the Jordans have found a new good way to sling the modern newspaper.