The Western Nebraska Observer began publishing in 1885; John Versey became Managing Editor last September. I was interested how small town newspapers fare in the Internet age, and was intrigued that a young man from Arkansas would move to Nebraska to take the helm of this newspaper that has four full-time employees and a part time sportswriter (who is pushing eighty and has covered local sports in this part of the panhandle for fifty years).
The Western Nebraska Observer is one of three local papers owned by an out-of-state conglomerate. It’s printed every Wednesday in nearby Sydney, for Thursday delivery. The paper runs from 16 to 24 pages, sports being the biggest variant in its size.
According to John, the local paper has changed less than many other things in this world. Over 90% of the subscribers take the print edition, ads still create the largest revenue stream, and classifieds are still strong. “We may not have as many cars for sale was used to, but employment ads, garage sales, and rentals are still listed here rather than on Craigslist.”
John believes the local paper will be relevant for the long haul because they cover things people want to know, that no one else covers. “People read the paper to see their friends and neighbors. Nobody else is going to go to the county events, the city hall meetings, the school board. Facebook offers bits and pieces; the Internet age is not invading this area. We cover it all.”
Still, John is making changes that reflect this unique form of communication. “In February we started a ‘Friends and Neighbors’ feature. It profiles a person or couple from our community. It fills the bottom of the front page and is very popular.
How will we live tomorrow?
“As far as the newspaper goes, I don’t think there will be a lot of change as long as do what we do well, which is to cover the community. We have an online edition and have started to add web video. It is just another revenue stream.
“Everyone says that print is going to die. I don’t necessarily agree.”