The Concrete Herald is being resurrected in the small town of Concrete, Skagit County, defying the conventional wisdom that print media is doomed.
CONCRETE, Skagit County —
Shocker story: Man plans to start a newspaper here! He doesn’t believe it’s over for print.
Another shocker: Businesses in this small town of 850 also still believe in print … and say they’ll advertise. And locals say they’ll subscribe.
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Of course, Jason Miller’s newspaper is a one-man operation, which helps a lot in defying current economic tides, not to mention the dismal state of newspapering in this country.
On a recent afternoon along Main Street, Miller walked into Concrete Dental.
Behind the counter at the dentist’s office is Karen Stafford, the receptionist, a 39-year resident of the area.
She has a friendly greeting for Miller.
At pretty much every stop Miller will make, the greeting will be nothing but positive.
Miller is going from business to business on Main Street, asking if he can put up a leaflet seeking startup donations for the newspaper.
“I hope it works for you,” Stafford says to Miller about his dream. For sure, she says, she’ll subscribe.
First issue planned for May 6
Stafford remembers when the town used to have its own weekly, the Concrete Herald, which folded in 1991 after 90 years of existence.
It is that same paper Miller wants to resurrect. He has set a date for its first issue of 2,000 copies — May 6. It would start out as a monthly with mail subscriptions at $24 a year, and, if things go well, be printed twice a month.
Miller says he’s not looking to turn a huge profit on the newspaper and believes he can cover the costs and expenses with ads and subscriptions.
The receptionist says she’s looking forward to that first issue.
A community paper, says Stafford, might have run a picture of her 12-year-old granddaughter, Emilee Fenley, who over the Christmas holidays appeared in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” at the Concrete Theatre.
“I believe that without our little paper, people lose a feeling of community,” she says.
Local, local, local. Perhaps that’s why industry reports say small-circulation newspapers are doing much better in comparison with their big-circulation cousins.
Miller’s next stop is Summit Bank.
“I’m sure we would run an ad,” Jean Johnson, the branch manager, says.
She also wants the town to get back its newspaper.
“Not everyone has a computer; not everyone watches TV,” Johnson says.
One advantage of starting a small, one-person community monthly is that the costs are not overwhelming.
Miller is looking for $10,000, with $6,000 going to buy Mac equipment, and $4,000 going to buy an existing monthly shopper in the area, the Upriver Community News. Miller would carry on with the shopper’s advertisers and considerably expand the news coverage. The shopper makes a profit of about $150 a month.
What Miller doesn’t get in donations (as of Friday afternoon he had collected $1,454.54), he says he’ll make up with a loan against his house.
He plans to have the Herald cover the six towns along the North Cascades Highway that are east of Sedro-Woolley, the latter getting coverage from the weekly Courier-Times.
There also would be a daily Web-site update. The Web site would be free for the first three months, then cost $12 a year. Miller doesn’t believe in giving away content.
“Don’t you think people would pay $1 a month to get updated news?” he asks.
Town proud of heritage
This is a town proud of its heritage, proud of its smallness, proud of its isolated location along the North Cascades Highway.
Miller, 41 and single, grew up in Lynden, Whatcom County. His dad was a manager of a farm-supply store. So Miller has an affinity for small towns.
After earning a master’s degree in creative writing, Miller worked for a publisher of home plans, in marketing and as a freelance writer specializing in home-and-garden-type articles
He is a recent arrival to Concrete, buying a home in 2005.
But it didn’t take him long to become involved with the goings-on in town: the planning commission, the parks committee, the town-center sign committee. He has a low-key demeanor, and the locals seem to like him.
He’s learned to appreciate Concrete.
These days, the town has a pristine look, with clean streets, and it is surrounded by greenery.
It was different during the cement-making days from 1906 to 1968 that gave Concrete its name. Nearby clay and limestone deposits provided the raw material. But old equipment and new pollution standards ended that industry.
During the cement-manufacturing days, dust from the huge cement kilns permeated everything, and shopkeepers kept their doors closed even on hot summer days.
These days, the main reminder of those times is when drivers on the North Cascades Highway suddenly come upon cement silos rising more than 100 feet.
Giant red letters painted across them proclaim, “WELCOME TO CONCRETE.”
On this afternoon, Miller continues visiting the various businesses.
At Cascade Supply, the town’s TrueValue store, owner Don Rohan says, yes, he’ll buy an ad in the resurrected Concrete Herald.
“It’s a good thing to advertise. It’s hard for us to let people know we’re here, that there is an actual downtown in Concrete,” he says.
At the hardware store, Miller runs into Shelle Timmer, co-owner of the town’s Just As I Am Early Learning Center.
Timmer says the kids in the center are excited about having a local newspaper and want to write articles for it. She says that she brings in out-of-town papers and the kids get bored.
“But if they see their picture in a parade, that’s big for them,” she says.
Timmer says she has set aside $600 in the center’s 2009 budget to buys ads in the newspaper.
“We have hope,” she says about the Concrete Herald.
Miller smiles and takes in the comment.
The town, for sure, has told him how it feels about a newspaper.
It wants it back.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org