Albany School District planning to buy local newspaper

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Gina Duwe
July 23, 2015

ALBANY--The Albany School District is considering buying the local newspaper.

Albany's Hometown Herald owner/Editor P.J. Francis is interested in selling his weekly publication, but he's particular about the buyer. That led to conversations with school Superintendent Steve Guenther, who has been talking with residents in a local community group about coming up with a business plan to buy and run the newspaper through the school.

“We thought we could do this, we could really run this paper—incorporate it into a number of classes,” Guenther said.

He envisions members of Albany Community1st, a group working toward non-profit status to become the local chamber, and other residents contributing content to the newspaper.

“Some of our local community members say they'd love to help out,” Guenther added.

Students across multiple classes would handle advertising, writing, photography, layout and marketing.

“What cooler way to have a collaborative project between the school and local community to help give kids experiences that are authentic?” Guenther said.

The school board will discuss and possibly take action at its Monday, Aug. 10, meeting.

Neither Guenther nor Francis said they could provide terms of a sale because they still are working out details. Guenther said he is trying to get community donations for the purchase.

“It shouldn't cost us in the long run,” he predicted. “It should pay for itself. Pretty much right now it looks like it's fairly break-even, maybe a little bit of profit.”

Any profits would go back into the business or possibly pay the students for their work, he said.

Francis said he is willing to help the district publish through the transition.

“Hopefully by next year, we'd have it as an integrated class—just part of what we do here in Albany,” Guenther said.

The district would develop curriculum and processes for publishing the eight-page, black-and-white, tabloid-sized newspaper.

The district would be buying the newspaper name and its subscriber and advertiser lists and some computers with publication software. The paper no longer has a local office. When Francis bought the paper about four years ago, he started operating it out of his home. 

The plan would be to have students develop an online presence for the paper, which it does not have. Guenther said the district has a great base of alumni and residents that enjoy a newspaper, but there's also “a whole bunch of different readers who aren't going to get a newspaper anymore.”

The district could incorporate the content from its monthly newsletter into the newspaper, though he would like to keep the newspaper publishing weekly.

“There's really nothing there we couldn't have in the weekly paper,” he said.

Ireland-native Francis said he would like to spend more time across the pond, which doesn't fit well with running a weekly newspaper. When he spends weeks at a time in Ireland, he still produces the paper through the Internet and arrangements with his Brodhead printer and post office.

“I don't want it to disappear,” he said of the Hometown Herald. “I am particular about who acquires it.”

Francis laughed when asked how many hours he puts into each paper.

“It takes a lot,” he said.

He said it could be done “in a short number of hours, not counting going to meetings,” which can take him four hours.

Francis also works for an auction company that sends him occasionally traveling the United State. He and his wife run the paper as a business to sustain itself, he said, though he jokes his accountant calls the business a hobby.

“Whatever decision is made, I will keep the Hometown Herald in operation,” he said. “I think that's important to let subscribers know. I won't abandon them.”

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