New ‘Neighbors’ newspaper builds on the Vindy franchise

By Todd Franko

We’re always looking for new and better ways to do our jobs at The Vindicator and serve the Valley.

The latest is Neighbors, a new weekly newspaper from our Special Sections department.

We introduced it Saturday to residents of Austintown, Canfield, Boardman and Poland. For subscribers in those towns, it was inserted into their Saturday Vindicator. For residents of those towns who do not (yet) subscribe to The Vindicator, Neighbors was delivered to their homes.

This is something we’ve wanted for years — a weekly newspaper to complement our coverage in our core towns. As our baby steps into this new venture grow into a jog and then eventually a sprint, we’d love for the Neighbors franchise to grow to other towns as well.

Why start a weekly newspaper?

Though the daily newspaper and its Web counterpart play a vital role in gathering and disseminating news and advertising information, the sheer geography — five counties and two states — causes us to maintain a certain news threshold so that New Castle, Pa., readers, say, don’t have to wade through Poland school-lunch menus.

It’s not that we don’t like school-lunch menus. We do. Our challenge is to maintain the interest of a broad spectrum of readers while also reporting on the day-to-day breaking-news items.

Plus, the staff time and news space required for very-local news is getting tougher to come by.

So we make choices about what gets in and what gets left out.

Here’s a good example:

We offer solid coverage of high school sports in The Vindicator that features more than 30 school districts. It requires a lot of staff and space. If we were to start covering junior-varsity, freshman and middle-school sports, we’d have to double our staffing and space. That’s just not feasible.

So we draw lines. We don’t like lines, but we need them in order to keep Vindicator access balanced for various groups.

We’ve long thought that if we can create a newspaper for individual hometowns, we would have a lot more space and flexibility for, say, middle- school and junior-varsity sports ... and honor rolls ... and Rotary Club events ... and local youth sports.

With Neighbors, we now have that.

Similarly, for advertising, because we serve five counties and distribute to 60,000 people, a pizzeria or hair salon in Austintown — whose client base comes from a two-mile radius — has to weigh the bang-for-the-buck if the only choice is to advertise to the entire audience of The Vindicator.

With Neighbors, we’re now the best buy for that business if they want to reach every resident in Austintown, Canfield, Boardman or Poland using a single-print product from a time- proven, respected local company.

That puts us right in direct competition with direct-mail and coupon books. They are no match to a family-friendly, portable advertising product such as a newspaper.

Another cool aspect of Neighbors is that it is the first product to come from our multimillion-dollar investment in a new printing press.

The press has some further refinement to come, but the first glance at Neighbors shows that the new Vindicator to debut in 2010 will be a dynamic change for our loyal readers.

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