Wednesday, June 12, 2024

HCN publisher announces larger, once-weekly ‘hyperlocal’ paper

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The Hood County News, the fastest growing community newspaper in Texas according to the Texas Press Association, will soon move to a larger, once-a-week publication, Publisher Sam Houston has announced.

Houston said his goal is for the newspaper to consistently be at least 32 pages, rivaling the size of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, but with “hyperlocal” coverage specific to Hood County. Although the HCN will no longer publish twice weekly, its staff will continue to post breaking news and other news items daily on social media and at hcnews.com, which receives more than 50,000 views per week.

The new weekly issues will include more photos, Houston said, along with expanded coverage that will include such things as more business news, more civic group activities, and a focus on issues relevant to various population groups, such as young families. Additional staff has been added to assist in the effort.

The move, slated for early next month, will not affect subscription rates.

Houston said the switch reflects changes in the industry and in society.

“Our world constantly evolves, and how people receive their news constantly evolves,” he said. “You know, when I was a child, we got our news on the radio and we got our news in the newspaper that got delivered every morning, because not everybody had a television. And eventually things evolved. And people wanted to watch their news as well as listen to it. It didn’t mean that the newspaper was irrelevant, it just meant that it had a different role.”

He noted that while news posted on social media is instantaneous, it is not necessarily factual.

Separating fact from fiction is where a community newspaper plays a significant part, Houston indicated. He noted that while HCN staff will post information about a breaking news situation in which not all facts are immediately known, the weekly printed issues will likely be able to provide more detail about that situation. The paper will also publish a greater variety of other information important to the community, such as news about schools, churches, city and county government, civic clubs and other organizations.

In addition to being the HCN’s publisher, Houston is also chief operating officer of the Hyde Media Group, which purchased the Hood County News in August 2020 and went on to acquire three other community newspapers.

Many newspapers have struggled in recent years, particularly with the rise of social media, and the COVID-19 pandemic caused further challenges. But Houston insists that newspapers remain relevant even as they are evolving. He said that community newspapers are perhaps better equipped to handle that evolution since, unlike metropolitan newspapers, they don’t need to commit resources to covering national, state, or regional news.

“The truth is, three years (after acquiring the HCN), we’re the fastest growing newspaper in the state of Texas, and that’s a fact,” he said. “That’s not a prideful boast, it’s a reality. How did that happen? Well, it happened because we made changes to not be the status quo newspaper but to evolve to be something that was objective and factual, to provide information that people want to see. We are the only source of local community news. We’re providing people with information that they can’t get anyplace else.”

The final twice-weekly issue of the HCN will be published on Saturday, June 3, Houston said. The first weekly issue will be published one week later, on Saturday, June 10.

Subscribers who receive print issues of the HCN are also able to read full stories posted on the HCN’s website and they also have access to digital versions of the newspaper. Although some readers, particularly those who are older, have long favored the newspaper’s printed version, Houston said that many seniors are now doing more reading online because they became more accustomed to doing things online during the pandemic.

The Gatesville Messenger, one of the papers owned by the Hyde Media Group, recently went to once a week and Houston indicated that readers and advertisers have been very pleased with the change.

Another coming change is that two other newspapers owned by Hyde Media, The Springtown Epigraph and Azle News, will merge and become The Tri-County Reporter. The two newspapers are in neighboring communities and oftentimes publish the same articles, so merging them made sense to Houston and to Hyde Media Group President Kim Ware, publisher of both papers.

“That area of northwest Tarrant County is expanding and northeast Parker County is growing so rapidly, those communities are starting to merge,” Houston said. “And we feel like those are real opportunities by joining them in a newspaper called The Tri-County Reporter, (to) report on a broader area and not be limited to a single small community.”

A SMARTER WAY

The HCN is one of just a few community newspapers in Texas to own its own printing press. The press crew is kept busy printing not just the HCN, but Hyde Media’s other newspapers and other publications across the state.

Houston indicated that the larger, once a week issues will help the press crew manage its workload and will help insulate the newspaper from postal rate increases while at the same time expanding coverage for readers.

“I still believe that people want information about their community,” Houston stated. “For now, there’s still a large segment of our population that want a printed paper. And that’s what we’re going to provide them.”

A one-year subscription to the HCN costs $65, $85 for out-of-county subscribers. A one-year online-only subscription costs $50.

“The Hood County News has been here for well over 100 years, and we intend to be here for a lot longer,” Houston said. ““We’re trying to be the cutting edge of what a 21st Century community newspaper should be.”