What an exciting week we are having at Blount Today! On Tuesday, Aug. 26, we celebrated our fourth birthday. It has been a great time to look back at our newspaper and what we have tried to do in this wonderful county.
I remember well that first issue. To say I was scared to death is a gross understatement. We had committed to publishing a 32 page tab-size issue, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to fill it up. There were just four of us -- myself, Marty Millsaps, Tessa Bright and Tina Hershner. We had borrowed a writer from the Knoxville News Sentinel to help us get over the hump, and the advertising representative from the News Sentinel had helped with a few ad sales, but, basically, it was just us.
We weren’t sure if the advertising revenue would support a free publication. We weren’t sure if the organizations, newsmakers and institutions would send us information and pictures for our new newspaper. We weren’t sure of much of anything except that we all believed in the concept that had been put before us: Develop a weekly newspaper that would be committed to one community. Reflect that community on the pages of the paper and make it an integral part of community life.
I remember those early conversations. We all had different backgrounds, were different ages and had different ways of doing things. But in each meeting, each conversation, as we worked to develop a team approach, we had one basic belief that held us together: We believed it could work.
Before we celebrated our next birthday, several key things happened for us. Lance Coleman, who is now editor, came on board in January of 2005 as our main reporter, and Stefan Cooper came on later that year as our sports editor. The impact those two people had on our newspaper can only be described in superlatives. We joined the Blount County Chamber of Commerce, and I found an instant source of support, information and opportunities to meet people. I met Carolyn Forster who took me on a tour of Blount County and let me see the county she grew up in through her eyes. Personally, Julia Kyle, Sara Proffitt Berry, Jane Andrews, Ann Crytser, Joy Bishop and Gina Cappelletti took me under their wings and offered me personal support for the concept and dream the paper was embracing.
The job wasn’t -- and isn’t -- easy. Competition with the daily newspaper is fierce and sometimes brutal. We compete for advertising with The Daily Times, the News Sentinel, Metro Pulse, Knoxville Magazine, City View, every television and radio station that comes into Blount County and billboards.
Although we are comfortable with being the weekly, community paper and don’t strive to print a daily product, we do try to serve the same local businesses, which sometimes leads to aggressive competition with the daily paper.
We often have to refute misinformation: We are not owned by the Knoxville News Sentinel. We do have the highest demographics of any publication that comes to Blount County. We do have the highest circulation numbers in Blount County (25,000), greater than the Knoxville News Sentinel (7,324), the Daily Times (21,717 in 2006 and 20,395 in 2007) and Metro Pulse (6,400).
Our answer has been to keep doing what has proven successful for us. And you have responded. While readership numbers for newspapers all around us have fallen, the Scarborough Research Readership Institute reported that Blount Today readership grew by 7 percent from 2006 to 2007.
We have two mottos at Blount Today -- one that is ours alone, and one we share with every newspaper that carries the Scripps logo. At Blount Today, we are “Committed to Community.” In our four years, we believe we have become a respected community voice in Blount County. We strive to be fair and unbiased.
We embrace both “soft news” that reflects our community and harder news that looks at community issues, politics and concerns. We do not always make everyone happy, but we also do not barter our journalistic integrity for a one-hit sensational headline. We do not target political parties, businesses or groups for negative press. Our stories -- whether sports, politics or community issues -- are balanced. It’s not a new concept, but one that is not always found in journalism these days.
As a Scripps paper, we believe we should “Give light and the people will find their own way.” That works for us, as we strive to let opposing sides, in a fair and non-libelous way, have their say in Blount Today stories. We trust our readers to draw their own conclusions.
When we started Blount Today, our competitors told everyone we would be gone in six months. There wasn’t a single day or sleepless night I believed that would be true. I grew up in a small town -- smaller than Maryville, larger than Alcoa -- and I just had a feeling about this county. I thought this county deserved what the team here envisioned. And, I truly believed you, our readers, would embrace it.
You have. Thank you! And please, thank our advertisers. The combination of advertising support and your loyalty as readers is helping Blount Today fulfill our pledge to publish a first-class, relevant, interesting newspaper that is committed to community.
Thanks for reading!
Sherri Gardner Howell