DALTON This month, The Dalton Gazette & Kidron News marks five years of printing under its latest ownership.
Since Kurt and Heather Immler took the reins in 2016, they have given The Dalton Gazette & Kidron News an updated look, and a website with an e-edition – and they have done much more behind the scenes. The couple provided a broader reach into communities by selling the paper at newsstands in nine locations throughout eastern Wayne County. They continue to expand the paper’s social media presence, and increase engagement with readers. The number of subscribers – both print and online – continues to grow weekly.
The Immlers continue to work to evolve the newspaper so it will survive and thrive for years to come. For the weekly community newspaper’s 150th anniversary in a couple of years, the owners already are brainstorming how to honor the milestone.
Five years ago this week, the Immlers began publishing The DGKN. Since then, they’ve also started a successful side business, which works hand-in-hand with the newspaper, to print custom T-shirts and banners. In the office at 28 W Main St. in downtown Dalton, surrounded by shelves of neatly folded shirts, rolls of vinyl and equipment for custom printing, Kurt Immler took a few minutes to reflect on how far the paper has come, and the direction he would like to see the newspaper headed.
The future of this community newspaper has been in doubt more than once in its more than 140-year history.
For a few months after Ernest “Ern” Scott’s death in 1955, a newspaper for the Dalton area was not coming off the press.
Scott was the son of founder Walton C. Scott, who began publishing The Dalton Banner Aug. 3, 1875. A couple of months later, he changed the name to The Dalton Gazette.
After Ern Scott died, the newspaper was in danger of folding, until a group of residents formed The Dalton Publishing Company in 1956, and sold 600 shares of stock in the newspaper to the community. Subsequently, Harry “Al” Zimmerer became publisher/editor in 1962, and he sold the paper to Glenn and Marge Smith in 1972. In December 1974, The Dalton Gazette and Kidron News combined as a single weekly, and in August 1983, Francis Woodruff took over the newspaper.
The presses stopped again after Woodruff, who basically had single-handedly run the newspaper for 32 years, decided to retire at the end of 2015.
It had happened before. Would someone take over the newspaper again? The 21st century world was much different than that of the 1950s. The newspaper industry was dying. Newsrooms across the country were going quiet as corporations cut staff members. Papers were consolidating and leaning on their online presence. Others were shutting down completely. Newspapers were getting smaller and publishing less frequently.
Enter Kurt and Heather Immler.
After living in Dalton for about 10 years and with their family going through the Dalton school system, the couple was up for the challenge of saving their community newspaper. They wanted to grow the business. They wanted the newspaper to offer what readers and subscribers wanted – and more.
The Immlers got to work. They rolled up their sleeves. They got ink on their fingers. They became journalists overnight.
The new owners began covering meetings, taking photos at events, accepting submissions, and reaching out to advertisers. The Gazette & News’ social media presence grew, and the new owners began looking into launching a website for the first time in the newspaper’s history.
For the entire first year that The Dalton Gazette & Kidron News was produced by the Immlers, the couple gave away advertising space – for free. The Immlers wanted to prove that they were committed to the newspaper and the community.
The Dalton Gazette & Kidron News also publishes obituaries at no cost – a practice that is unique compared to other newspapers, and that the Immlers believe is one of the most important changes they have put in place. The Immlers believe that families already are going through enough emotionally and financially when a loved one dies that they can’t in good faith charge to run death notices – regardless of length.
“Obituaries honor a person’s life and I believe everyone deserves that paragraph,” Immler said. “Daily newspapers as well as other weeklies should do the same thing.
After the Immlers bought the newspaper, Kurt adopted the mantra: “slow and steady wins the race.”
Local residents didn’t know what the Immlers had planned for the newspaper.
“I didn’t talk much to too many people about where we were headed,” Immler said. “In fact, I’ll never forget the umors floating around about what I was going to do with the paper, and I wasn’t about to tell them I didn’t know either. I was still figuring it out myself.”
What the Immlers did know was that many things had to change.
“It was baby steps – one step at a time,” Immler said.
Growing up, Kurt Immler’s household had several local newspapers over the years: The Barberton Herald, the then-Norton Pride, The Akron Beacon Journal, The Akron Legal News and The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer and The (Wadsworth) News-Banner.
As a kid in Norton in the 1970s, Immler didn’t flip first to the comics page each time he picked up a newspaper, like some of his childhood peers.
Instead, he said, he read the local police blotter first.
“There was always something happening,” Immler said.
He would then scan the classifieds section and obituaries.
Recalling the thick bulky newspapers from his youth, Immler has increasingly been concerned about the dying newspaper industry – especially the larger dailies.
“The shrinking of the newspapers year after year is what is shocking to me,” he said.
Immler noticed how both large daily and small community weekly newspapers have suffered over the years: less content, a decrease in advertising, higher prices and loss of readership.
When it appeared that The Dalton Gazette & Kidron News had printed its last edition at the end of 2015, the Immlers knew they had to do something.
“I was always fond of having a community paper growing up,” Immler said. “I still have a subscription to my community newspaper from where I grew up. Truthfully, I always loved my community newspaper.”
Immler openly admits he never excelled in English in high school. He jokes that to this day he doesn’t know the difference between a pronoun and an adverb. But he loves a good story. He’s hungry for knowledge, and enjoys doing his own research on hot topics. And he believes in keeping communities informed on what’s going on around them.
“To me, it was the ultimate challenge,” Immler said.
Kurt Immler had owned and managed businesses before – and even helped to turn around businesses. But the Immlers had never run a newspaper.
“It was going into a business and thinking: ‘there was no way we were going to turn around a paper and make it fly.’ It was my ultimate challenge,” he said.
Fast forward five years and the Immlers have turned around the paper to meet the demands of the times – and they are making it fly.
The owners are grateful to the local businesses that have supported the newspaper, and to the many contributors who have provided stories and photos without asking for a dime in return.
“When you see an advertiser in the newspaper that you use, tell them – in fact, thank them,” Immler said.
Subscription costs barely cover the costs of printing, postage and distribution, Immler said.
“Advertisers keep this newspaper afloat, as well as a solid readership,” he said.
Along with news releases, story ideas and brief news items submitted by community members and organizations, many contributors have freely submitted quality content. The Immlers are especially thankful to local photographer Lisa McGinty who has shared her photos with the newspaper for years, and Randy Fath and Amber Doty also recently began lending their time and talents to the newspaper. Since the Immlers took over the paper, local Realtor Esta Ryder has provided real estate tips regularly. Veteran journalist Melody Snure has shared her voice with the paper and DHS teacher Zach McFarren has pitched in to help with football coverage.
Immler touched on five key areas that he has focused on over the past five years:
QUICKER DELIVERY METHOD Initially, a common complaint was how long it took local subscribers to receive their paper each week, Immler said. After purchasing new equipment, developing a new distribution method, and compiling a new database system, the Immlers were able to cut delivery time by a day. To expedite the process, the Immlers pick up the bundles of papers straight from the press on Mondays, print off labels in just a couple of minutes, and take an extra step of dropping off papers at five different post offices Tuesday mornings. Readers who prefer to pick up a paper each week can count on a new edition to appear by every Wednesday at BellStores in Dalton and Mt. Eaton, Dollar General in Dalton, Apple Creek, Marshallville and Orrville, Kidron Town & Country, and Buehler’s in Orrville. A little-known fact is that The DGKN is mailed to subscribers in nearly every state across the country. Also, subscribers have the option of choosing to read the e-edition for only $26 per year. The e-edition looks exactly the same as the print edition but is available beginning Tuesdays on the subscriber’s electronic device. Online subscribers also have archives from the past few years available to them.
IMPROVED LOOK AND BETTER QUALITY The Immlers wanted to treat their longtime readers and subscribers to a more vibrant product. Kurt Immler immediately turned the “flag” on the front page orange. The Immlers wanted color to be available on every page and upgraded the quality of the newsprint.
LOCAL CONNECTIONS “In the beginning, in deciding what this paper should be, I wanted every story to connect to the Dalton and Kidron communities,” Immler said. Every story and obit has a connection to someone in the local communities, he said. While the newspaper is dedicated to the Dalton and Kidron communities, content has branched to include news from surrounding communities including police calls from Orrville and Apple Creek, and vital statistics from throughout Wayne County.
MIDDLE GROUND BETWEEN PRINT/ONLINE A challenge to the newspaper industry, Immler said he has noticed, has been finding a middle ground between print and online services. He has found that pushing the electronic platform only is not the answer. In his experience, there was still demand for a printed product.
“There was no middle ground,” he said. “They wanted to force everyone out of print and I can’t even comprehend that. I wanted a strong version online. I wanted strength in social media. But those are just vehicles to support the print edition. The print edition by far is the most important part of what we do.”
BROADER AUDIENCE AND INCREASED ENGAGEMENT The newspaper has always encouraged letters to the editor, and last year began offering a 24/7 Dalton/Kidron ViewsLine especially tailored for residents in small communities who may have a compliment or a criticism and would like to remain anonymous.
“It’s transcribed to us through a service so we don’t know the source of the call.”
The newspaper also is increasing its reach over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and regularly does callouts for submissions from readers. Immler said he hopes to continue to appeal to younger readers and gain younger subscribers.
“I don’t see why kids today are any less interested in their home communities than I was,” he said. “I loved reading my hometown newspaper when I lived there and I loved reading it when I moved away. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been. Your home, your school, and your upbringing, that’s always going to be interesting.”