Route 7 Report
Bill Reader, Assistant Professor,
E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio UniversityAthens, Ohio
Route 7 Report
102 Scripps Hall
Athens, OH 45701
The school will recruit and train citizens in three rural villages in Southeastern Ohio to create a monthly newsletter and a Web site to be updated weekly on local government, schools, business and organizations.
Download PDFs of Route 7 Report:
June | May | April | March | February | January
December | November | October | September | August | July | June | May | April | March | February | January
December | November | October | September | August | June | May | April | March | January
From the fall of 2008 through June 2009, the content for Route 7 Report was primarily produced by students in a series of community journalism-focused courses in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. However, at the end of the 2008-2009 school year, the Route 7 Report ceased publication.
• End of Year Two: October 2008
• End of Year One: November 2007
• Spring 2007
• November 2006
• August 2006
Route 7 Report: Regular, Dependable, Popular and in Print
End of Year Two: October 2008
The Route7Report serving the communities of Coolville and Tuppers Plains, Ohio has successfully published its local newsletter every month since January 2007. The Report is mailed to 2,500 homes, and a few hundred copies are distributed at the local library, post office and several local businesses. According to project director Bill Reader, the report is a “regular, dependable and popular news product in a community underserved by existing commercial media.”
Nearly two dozen members of the local community¬ - from high school students to retirees ¬- have submitted articles at least once. But the bulk of the content comes from a core group of four volunteers. led by Roxanne Rupe.
“Recruiting and keeping enough volunteers to sustain the project has been the single most difficult challenge of the project ¬¬,“explained Reader.
On top of that, Rupe stepped down as editor in May, 2008 to pursue other community activities. None of the other key players felt up to the task of learning the software and management skills necessary to produce the newsletter. “We nearly died for lack of an editor,” lamented Reader. The loss has forced Reader to roll up his sleeves and dive in.
“The project has demonstrated, I believe, that rural Appalachian communities such as those served by the Route 7 Report want and need a local source of news and information, but the community is not equipped to produce such a newsletter without help from a communication professional.”
Fortunately, the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, where Reader teaches, is committed to keeping the project alive for at least one more year, as part of a series of courses on community journalism. Reader himself will serve as the newsletter’s editor and his students will be charged with producing both print and online versions of the newsletter. The students will also be involved in efforts to raise funds for Route 7 Report, which would give them experience in raising capital for their own future start-ups.
A local charitable group has decided to donate the proceeds of it annual fund-raising dinner to the Route 7 Report. The organizer told Reader, “We just love our newspaper.” So far, local fundraising efforts have yielded nearly $3,400 which Reader says should cover the costs of printing and postages into 2009. More than $12,000 of the New Voices funding has gone to printing and postage.
The Route 7 Report has secured non-profit status in Ohio, and an IRS tax-ID number, but still must apply for tax-exempt status which will save them nearly $170 per month in postage.
Some might ask why, in 2008, the Route 7 Report even bothers to invest in paper and ink when it seems that the whole world has gravitated online. Reader launched a Web site for the project, but it never took off. “Print is still relevant,” says Reader. “Our community is behind the national averages in terms of income, education, social services and infrastructure. We have seen very little use of, or interest in, the online components of the Route 7 Report.”
Route 7 Report: Please Come to Our Town Next!
End of Year One: November 2007
As of June 2007, The Route 7 Report (R7R) project in Coolville and Tuppers Plains, Ohio, had published seven editions of a free monthly newsletter distributed by mass mailing to residences and available in stacks at various public spaces and businesses throughout the community. The largely volunteer-produced newsletter offers a mix of local news, features, advertising, and announcements of local events.
“The only complaints we have received is when the Post Office forgets to deliver an issue to every household, ” says Bill Reader, an Ohio University professor who coordinates the Route 7 project. R7R regularly receives requests to expand coverage to nearby communities within a 10-mile radius. They’ve recently added a new mail route, so circulation has jumped from 2,200 to 2,700. And they expect to soon add the towns of Reedsville and Chester to their coverage area.
“Anecdotally, the R7R has quickly been claimed by the community as ‘our own newspaper,’” Reader says.
A former village councilwoman who winters in Florida has offered to spend her summers in Coolville writing stories for the project.
The manager of the general store in Tuppers Plains says his ad in the newsletter has helped him compete locally. When an R7R volunteer comes into the store, the manager always hands him a $10 bill and says, “run my ad again!”
R7R has also caught the attention of local officials. “When we first started, the local townships were not excited about having ‘reporters’ covering their meetings,” says Reader. They feared only bad news would make it into print. But after reading a few months of “the matter-of-fact, respectful coverage of Coolville Village Council, trustees in [neighboring] Troy Township actually called us and asked if we could do the same for them.”
Residents also recognize that the Route 7 Report is improving the quality of life in their communities, as Sunshine Russell recently wrote in the Saw Mill Press blog:
“We have been working hard to beautify the village. We have restored the position of Village Police Chief. Other improvements slated to benefit existing community members and attract newcomers, small businesses, and developers include a new sewer system for the Village, a new and improved community park at the end of Cemetery Street, the Corridor D project, renewed interests in planning for a successful Founder’s Day, and even a local newspaper called Route7Report that is edited by Coolville public librarian Roxanne Rupe.”
R7R is surveying its readers to find out about their civic knowledge and activities. That information will help guide the paper’s coverage. And over the months, they’ve made some editorial changes. “We recently did away with a half-page of church listings to make room for more newsworthy content. We also have started running photos with stories.”
R7R had a handful of “one-time” contributors, but hopes to attract more citizen journalists to participate. This fall, Route 7 Report plans to make presentations at each of the area high schools to recruit students who many want to work for the newsletter as their senior project.
The Route 7 Report has managed to secure some advertisers. A few local businesses have become regular sponsors and new sponsorships come through every month. Volunteers have raised $2,300 in advertising and donations, but Reader hopes to find a single fund-raising volunteer to lead up the effort.
The project has also invested a lot of time and energy into applying for non-profit status. Beyond giving the project more autonomy over its own finances, this move will save about $165 a month in postage costs under the new postal rates.
One option for covering postage costs is to sell more “insert” ads. A local bank’s insert ad in April covered all the mailing costs for that issue.
“We really wish we would have done something different with the accompanying Web site,” Reader laments. “Our community is not very Web savvy, and Web visits have been dismal.” The site has logged and average of 109 visitors per month. R7R plans to post PDFs of the publication on line, but that is still a work in progress.
“High-speed Internet access has only recently arrived in the community as an affordable option, and according to Windstream (the only local DSL provider), relatively few households in the community have subscribed to the service.” He says his project also lacks volunteers with Web skills who could advance R7R’s online presence.
Reader says in retrospect, he regrets having spent $1,000 developing the Web site and suggests the money would have been better invested in the print product.
Route 7 Report Launches as Newsletter and Web Site
The Route 7 Report covering Coolville and Tuppers Plains, Ohio, debuted in mid-January, 2007, with the launch of a Web site and printed newsletters that are being delivered each month to local mailboxes. Stacks of the newsletters are also being made available at local businesses.
We are “running on all eight cylinders,” said Bill Reader, faculty coordinator from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. He writes in a progress report that the project is operating, “far better than our expectations when we first thought of this idea nearly a year ago.”
While the newsletter has gathered much positive feedback, the Web site has yet to have the same impact on these Southeastern Ohio communities. “What this project has decided to be is decidedly off-line,” Reader said at a New Voices grantees meeting in March. “Keep in mind that 24K dial-up is the best connection you can get. ... It’s not that they can’t get on the Internet, they just don’t want to.”
The citizen journalism team consists of four core volunteers, led by Roxanna Rupe, the newsletter’s editor. The team is working to recruit even more volunteers. Rupe has mastered Adobe InDesign for the newsletter and the open-source Web site management software Joomla! They expect to produce the June newsletter almost entirely on their own, Reader said.
He also said the volunteers are staring to feel comfortable trying new things, such as running photos in the layout and tackling more aggressive reporting projects.
One local resident recently told Reader, “We haven’t had an historical record here for a long, long time. I hope you guys can keep this one going.”
While getting content submissions from the community has been a challenge, calendar announcements and story ideas are starting to trickle in. “Churches love it,” Reader says. Core volunteers are taking these citizen story ideas and turning them into full articles. “In the end, the project may simply end up being an all-volunteer, donation-sponsored newspaper produced entirely by a small staff,” Reader writes.
May’s issue featured a profile of a local grave digger and a call for entries in a new
Big Tree Contest, based on the girth of the main trunk.
The group is working on obtaining non-profit status and opening a bank account so the volunteers can handle revenue and expenditures on their own. They hope to be self-sustaining by the end of the year. So far they have raised about $2,000.
Citizen Newsletter Web Site Launches
In mid-January, the first monthly issue of the Route 7 Report hit area Ohio mailboxes, and the Web site launched at www.route7report.com.
The first issue is four pages and is the work of volunteers who meet at the Coolville Public Library twice a month. The core group of four volunteers recruited three new members: a retired corporate communications professional; a homemaker whose daughter was a newspaper reporter and editor in nearby Parkersburg, West Virginia; and a high school junior with journalism aspirations.
Bill Reader and Cary Roberts Frith, the faculty coordinators from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, have continued to hold training sessions, some on technical aspects such as how to manage the Web site and how to use the layout program InDesign. During the weeks that volunteers do not meet, the OU coordinators have conducted additional training for the editor and associate editor.
Reader says in his progress report that the project has more than half of its grant money remaining. He expects each issue of the newsletter to cost about $800 for printing and mailing. To help the project continue, one of the volunteers will concentrate on fund-raising. Thus far, $75 in unsolicited donations has come in from the community.
For now, that money is in a temporary checking account, but the Route 7 Report team has applied for nonprofit status in Ohio so that a bank account can be opened in the organization’s name. The project is also working toward a point where the Route 7 Report will operate autonomously, with little oversight from Ohio University. Reader and Frith “will continue to provide support until June,” Reader writes, “at which point [we] will switch to ‘on call’ status to provide support only as needed by the volunteers.”
Route 7 Report Launches Early for Elections
The first issue of the Route 7 Report arrived in the mailboxes of residents in Coolville and Tuppers Plains, Ohio, on October 24. While this pilot issue was only two pages, it introduced the project to citizens and let them know that the newsletter would begin monthly publication with a four- to eight-page edition in January.
Coordinator Bill Reader, assistant professor at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, credits the enthusiasm of the volunteers for moving Route 7 ahead of schedule. OU, which is training citizens in rural villages in southwestern Ohio to create the monthly newsletter and a Web site, didn’t envision a launch for the newsletter until January. But the volunteers felt strongly that they should publish an issue before the November 7 elections, encouraging people to go to the polls and addressing ballot issues.
“They have quickly ‘taken over’ the project (as we had hoped), and are having interesting conversations about the plans for content and coverage in the newsletter,” Reader writes in his progress report.
Several training sessions were held with community volunteers in June through August. (The project was launched in June to coincide with Ohio University’s fiscal year.) The publication now has five solid volunteers involved, including an editor, associate editor, two reporters and a fund-raising chair.
Those staffers decided to narrow the focus a bit to covering two rural communities, not three as the J-school originally proposed. But the Route 7 Report could grow. Writes Reader: “They have been very focused on ‘filling the void’—that is, using the newsletter to provide information on local government, businesses, and activities that is not published anywhere else.”
The volunteer staff meetings are now fixed on the second and fourth Monday of each month in the Coolville Public Library. At the first meeting in June, OU Scripps School Director Tom Hodson and assistant professor Cary Roberts Frith, assistant coordinator of the project, joined Reader and volunteers. Hodson’s excitement for the project led him to donate two desktop computers from the journalism school, saving some grant funds for other expenses.
A month later the first training session was held, it was a discussion of basic journalism practices. Two weeks later, the volunteers came armed with articles they wrote from area council meeting minutes. That homework formed the basis of the session with Frith and Reader. The Tuppers Plains postmaster came to talk about bulk-mailing options for the printed newsletter. Route 7 Report also hired a Web design firm for the site, which will launch in mid-January.
Subsequent training sessions have covered how to report business and economic news and how to put together a voting guide - a valuable lesson, since the Route 7 pre-election issue had to go to the printer by October 16. Discussions also have centered on pressures from advertisers and the “editorial wall.”
In the pilot issue, staffers asked for community support and described why this newsletter is an important service. As Associate Editor Patty Conrad wrote: “Our community has an active base of volunteers who organize all manner of public events, from car shows and church suppers to harvest festivals and dinner theater. Much of the local news is relayed via word-of-mouth in the community and goes unheard by relatives living away. The Route 7 Report will fill that need for news about our area, which is seldom provided by the regional newspapers.”
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