Share the things you enjoy/hate about small-circulation newspapers and magazines

What aspects of your city/town small-circulation newspapers or magazine do you particularly like or dislike?

I travel a good deal and have acquired a schadenfreud-fueled habit of flipping through these publications to see what’s going, but also to get a quick laugh. While the local news coverage looks pretty solid and the publisher is obviously working on a shoestring budget, here are a few of my pet peeves/guilty pleasures:

  1. Dining Reviews. Terribly written. Invariably glowing in approval. Overuse of the word “perfect.” The writer knows less about food than 80 percent of his/her audience. Basing an entire “review” off one $40 meal that covers maybe 5 percent of the menu. No real insight into food.

  2. Performing Arts Reviews. Overuse of the word “perfect.” Likely overestimation of stage talent, with occasional comparisons with Broadway. Incorrect usage of stage terms. Poor analysis.

  3. Writing Skills. Tendency toward short, choppy, blahsy paragraph ledes, such as, “Jim Smith was having a bad day” or “Myrtle Krebaugh decided to join the Red Hat Ladies Club.” Lots of grammatical/stylistic errors.

I suppose I could mention the lack of an investigatory journalism, but these local rags don’t have the budget for that, I suppose. Anyway, enough for now. Share your compliments or complaints. What is your local publication doing right or wrong?

They all seem to be written for a 6th or maybe 8th grade reading level. I find myself getting dumber by the sentence. And the writing is painfully Expo 101. If I read one more conclusion that ties the final paragraph concretely to the topic sentence, I will puke. I ahve been in the strange position of actually feeling less informed after reading a piece–and less able to analyze it. Perhaps I am impressionable that way!

I find this most in special stories about “human interests” in the area or in the humorous pieces. It’s pablum, no quirkiness, no eccentricities–it’s all so safe.

Sports reporting is much better–the sports people who cover HS sports seem to do a fairly good job. Yes, some of the metaphors are hackneyed, but all sports metaphors are! This section seems to flow much better and also can be harsh in its criticisms.

Columns can be the worst–I am not even remotely interested in reading about Ms X’s sister’s problems with her begonias. I can feel the banality of it creep over me and smother me with a suffocating coat of mundane-ness…

The terrible lack of editing. Every time I read my local paper, I have the overwhelming urge to take a red pen to the whole thing and march it down to the office.

I start with absolutely no expectations whatsoever. Therefore, anything of substance is like found money. The occasional columnist with a literary flair, or an investigative reporter with a true nose for news.

I suspect that smaller publications are the minor league training clubs for those with larger circulation, and anyone of quality gets snapped up rather quickly. Still, they are a great place for someone to start with a degree in journalism.

What I hate is a when a small town newspaper believes that it has enough to say to be a daily and slowly implodes, when it would be a local permanent institution as a weekly.

another gripe: the failure to take on the local establishment. Chalk it up to advertising revenues or the publisher not wanting to offend drinking buddies, but there’s rarely a story that critically examines a local business.

Agreed on columnists. I don’t care about Aunt Edna’s gardening adventures or a small-town columnists take on the Iraq war.

The writing and insight are typically just awful.

The best and worst thing: The Police Blotter.

Best: It never ceases to amaze me that every car stopped for a busted tail light happens to contain marijuana out in plain sight.

Worst: I don’t care about the stolen bicycle. I want to know why three cop cars were at my neighbor’s house 45 minutes after they started screaming at each other. Enquiring minds want to know!

Apparently, there’s this free alternative weekly in Chicago called the Reader. I’ve never been to Chicago, but they have this delightful little column I read online in which unusal questions are answered in a very funny way. I think it’s called “The Straight” something-or-other.

Well, I worked for one of these dinky little papers way back, and when one of our biggest and most loyal advertisers got busted as a drug dealer, we ran the story. The guy wasn’t pleased about it, but after he cleared up his legal issues, he came right back to advertising with my paper. Go figure.

Incidentally, I moved in next door to a guy indicted in the same drug bust. He was very open about how much he hated my dinky little newspaper, but he was very neighborly to me, personally. As in offering to share his weed. :rolleyes:

I have a local paper that the editor and Joe Reporter has the most flowery way to describe even the most mundane events. B l e c h!

What about the bastards who hand out these craptastic papers? I don’t know if it’s a problem anywhere else, but here in NYC these guys who hand out the free Metro paper stand right in front of the subway stairs! You’re not passing out the New York Times, you fuckers… move it!

It’s the only paper that runs the Straight Dope column.

That’s the only reason I pick it up.

I didn’t know that. I guess that’s pretty cool, but they should still scoot over three feet.

I write and edit a big-town, small circulation paper circulation 32,000 +). We try to avoid the little-old-lady-recipe/police blotter/bad restaurant-movie-theater review/good-old-days formula of most of the freebie papers around here. Lots of community news, profiles of nonprofits and neighborhood events. For a weekly, we do okay – but it’s a tough slog some weeks. And I’m a damn FINE writer, thankyouverymuch!
Carnac, you have a point about not taking on the establishment in a small newspaper. We’ve killed a few stories in the past year because we (me, in particular) couldn’t get access to PTB to confirm, deny, or elaborate on political controversies or problems in the community. They don’t answer phone calls unless you are with the local Evil Corporate Paper, and the publisher frowns upon publishing one side of a story or issue without hearing from the opposition. It isn’t always the advertisers.
I like the police blotters. <Sigh> I wish I could talk the publisher into running one, but no go so far.

I called up the neighborhood monthly and volunteered to proofread/copyedit the whole thing for free – they turned me down.

I’ve paged through a lot of small town newspapers. Many photos of:

• Person A posed handing a check, a plaque, or just a handshake, to Person B.
• Latest project of the boy scouts/girl scouts.
• Damage to trees, power lines, or parked cars from the last storm.
• Rehearsals from the high school play.
• Entertainment at the senior home.
• Bicycle/wagon decorating contests.
• Architectural drawings of very ordinary new buildings.

Some years ago, I wrote a column for a small monthly publication that was distributed to a few communities in our region. It was a home-and-garden sort of magazine, with plenty of Martha Stewart-ish stuff: recipes, decorating ideas, gardening tips, reviews of local restaurants, and similar items. I wrote about home repairs, mostly dealing with simple things anybody could do with a few tools and a couple of minutes.

Anyway, I might be able to explain a little about two of the OP’s concerns:

Yup, no matter what, local restaurants and local productions are going to be perfect. Or something synonymous with “perfect.”

Why? Because they’re local. In fact, local is the key word: advertising revenue for our little local magazine depended on keeping the local businesses and others who might spend money on advertising, such as local arts groups, happy. Our little magazine could not afford to lose any current or potential advertiser, while a big city publication had a much bigger pool of advertisers to pitch its circulation to. If, say, a big city restaurant didn’t like how it was reviewed in the big city magazine and pulled its advertising, the big city magazine just yawned. Our little magazine panicked.

Advertising, and the revenues derived from it, drove everything our magazine did. Each columnist, myself included, had to include some reference to a local business in our columns–for example, if my column was about some simple plumbing repair, I would call a local plumber and get some tips. This allowed me to write something like, “Losing your ring down the sink drain isn’t a tragedy. According to Bill Smith of Smith’s Plumbing, anybody can open the P-trap and retrieve the ring.” I’d include a few quotes from Bill, of course; and since he would usually be pleased to be referenced (and quoted to boot!) in the magazine, he would thus be more amenable to spending his money on advertising with us.

Sadly, some of the ideas we all had never came to fruition because the publisher couldn’t see a way that they could make any money from this approach to advertising. For example, a pet column was vetoed, because there were only a few veterinarians in our circulation area. Once we had interviewed all of those specialists, and assuming none of them advertised with us, we had no other local (there’s that word again) veterinarians to use as resources. So, no pet column. On the other hand, we had plenty of day-care centres in our area; therefore, we had a child-care column. See how it worked?

So am I.

Oh yes. Our weekly paper gives no details. I don’t care about names, but some resolution would be nice.

My mom lived in the Greenwood district in Seattle, and her paper’s police blotter was called (if I remember right) Hash Ground Fresh Weekly. Funny as hell.

One thing about our paper that I don’t like is the Card of Thanks in the classifieds. People use them to thank ministers, doctors, friends, relatives, local businesses and organizations (for the prize or scholarship they won), volunteers (who worked the bake sale), etc.

I guess I should assume that these folks are also thanking people in the traditional way, but I bet they aren’t. It’s much easier to put a free ad in the paper than to call or write a personal thank you.

As someone who oftentimes has to contact smaller newspapers for sample copies (gotta see if it’s worth advertising in), I see some interesting stuff. I think my all-time favorite headline was a front-pager on a small paper from the South: Local Golfer Enjoys Birthday. Hard hitting.

My favorite thing about the small-town newspaper where I live is the “calendar” section with local events. Especially the volunteer fire department fried chicken dinners. I never miss 'em. Yum.

Worst: The comic page is only one page long! :frowning:
Best: All the daily comics are in color! :slight_smile: