Growing to twice as nice

Blount Today expands to second day with Blount Today Monday

Five year olds can be unpredictable, and Blount Today is no exception.

On Aug. 26, Blount Today will celebrate its five-year anniversary. It was on that day in 2004 that the community weekly introduced itself to Blount County readers.

Through the years, the newspaper has grown and evolved. On the editorial side, it specialized in human interest stories, issue pieces and hard-news follow up stories. Chatroom introduced readers to interesting people in the community and Snapshots captured everyone’s favorite images and shared them with readers.

Sports editor Stefan Cooper always shined a light on local athletes from Pee Wee and Midget football players to the high school and college athletes to those individuals who refused to let age stop them from competing.

Features like Robin McDaniels’ column “In the Kitchen” gave readers a different taste each week from her family’s kitchen and professionals like Doug Horn shared insight into financial planning. Josh Pritchard brought smiles with his cartoon “DogTown.” And publisher Sherri Gardner Howell created a conversation with the community when she brought her Dear Readers column to Blount Today.

With each new move, readers embraced what Blount Today offered.

Fred Forster, president and CEO of the Blount Chamber Partnership, said Blount Today has had a positive impact on the Chamber and the work it does.

“Absolutely, you guys have been good about getting the word out about things we are doing,” he said.

Forster said the community embraced Blount Today because it focuses on covering personal and local news instead of news from outside the area. “People are interested in local news,” he said.

Brian Daniels, vice president of the Economic Development Board, said Blount Today fits well into the fabric of the community.

“I think it helps keep the citizen of the community up to date on current issues,” he said.

Daniels said having Blount Today Monday along with the regular Blount Today edition on Thursdays will help in recruiting industry, and it will improve the quality of life in Blount County.

“I think it will help the citizens understand what we do in trying to bring opportunity to the community,” he said. “Also, having this resource in the community just helps us sell what attributes we have.”

Blount Today came to Blount County without a “tried-and-true” model of what would work for a free-standing, community newspaper.

“It has always been a work-in-progress,” said Gardner Howell. “We have tweaked and analyzed and stumbled a time or two. But we’ve always stayed true to our mission of being committed to this community.”

Through the years Blount Today also changed as the economy dictated. When the real estate market ebbed, Advertising Director Marty Millsaps and ad reps Susan Stout and Joe Lambert courted other retailers with opportunities to reach the wide readership Blount Today offered.

But with each year, Gardner Howell challenged the staff to always look for ways to grow, change and improve. Never stand still, she insisted.

With that in mind, Gardner Howell began exploring an idea that sprang from questions she heard weekly from readers: “When are you going to publish more than once a week?”

So beginning Aug. 31, Blount Today will begin publishing twice a week. The new read will be called Blount Today Monday. It is a bold move by a small staff, but one Gardner Howell said Blount Today and the community are ready for.

Gardner Howell said there were two compelling reasons for the move. One is to increase exposure for advertisers. “By offering the community a second newspaper, our advertisers will be able to get their message out to customers and potential customers twice a week instead of just on Thursdays,” she said. “The second reason is that the community has expressed a strong interest in seeing more Blount Today. As we celebrate our 5th birthday, the time seemed right to take that next step.”

Gardner Howell said that even though many are pulling back during this tight economy, this is the time to push forward with new ideas and initiatives.

“Ever since the economy went sour, we have been telling our customers that a smart, growth-oriented company gets aggressive during a down economy by increasing, not decreasing their advertising budget,” she said. “We’ve made a lot of changes at Blount Today to get as lean as possible and will doubtless make more. But now, it’s time to take advantage of that and show some growth.”

Gardner Howell said the best thing about having Blount Today and Blount Today Mondays is that the new publication increases what is offered to readers and advertisers. “Readers are going to love Blount Today Monday. It will look a little different, will be a quick read, will further showcase all the great things going on in our community and will have some real nuggets that readers are going to love,” she said.

Gardner Howell said Blount Today Monday will fill a niche as far as content focus. “We aren’t backing ourselves into any corners with a ‘themed’ paper. We will have a good solid feature story each week, but the topic will vary. Our thinking right now is that it will be heavy on business news and stories of new businesses, health and fitness programs, financial news and college news,” she said. “Still, we aren’t closing the door to anything that needs to go in the paper on a Monday.”

But what will be different about the two publications?

“I’m not giving away all our secrets,” said Gardner Howell, with a laugh. “One I will share is that Blount Today Monday will feature a book review column every week. Once a month, teenager Courtney Bowers will write about a teen book. The rest of the Mondays, Blount Today designer -- and book lover extraordinaire -- Tessa Bright Wildsmith will share a book review with our readers,” she said.

Blount Today Monday will greatly expand the paper’s college news to keep readers informed about the great things and people at Pellissippi State and Maryville College. “And we are looking into the possibility of having a Kids Puzzle page,” she said.

Gardner Howell said the team at Blount Today is ready for the move to publishing twice a week. “The ad team is ready to be able to offer more exposure -- at a great price -- to their customers. The design team is ready to have a little fun with a new look for the front page. The editorial team is ready to get more stories, more events and more news in the paper,” she said. “As for me, I am just excited about being able to bring more of a great community newspaper to the people of Blount County.”

Millsaps said Blount Today Monday will use the same home distribution model that the Thursday edition uses. “It will be inserted into the Knoxville News Sentinel in Blount County and down into Tellico Village and Rarity Bay. It will also be available in the News Sentinel racks as well,” he said. “We are also working on a strategy to deliver it to the schools, and we will do bundled drops to several area businesses.”

Millsaps said Blount Today Monday will offer the visibility that the advertisers have been asking for since Blount Today started. “With the captive audience and the higher-end demographics Blount Today has, this can really help an advertiser get the reach and exposure they desire, that they literally can’t get anywhere else,” he said.

Millsaps said there will be some good deals for advertisers with the launch of Blount Today Monday.

“Well, we are already the most affordable buy in town, especially considering that our Thursday distribution is the largest in Blount County,” Millsaps said. “Advertisers are going to love our even lower rates and limited inventory on Monday,” he said.

Millsaps said Blount Today Monday will enhance the fall football tab Blount Today Monday Morning Quarterback that begins with Week Zero coverage on Aug. 24, just as it has for the past three years. Then, when Blount Today Monday launches on Aug. 31, Monday Morning Quarterback will be inserted into the Monday paper. You get the best of both worlds. We already have a huge audience for the Quarterback, now you get more Blount County news all in one package. Plus, we have another surprise coming this fall called School Spirit that will also be a part of the Monday package. It’s going to be an incredible package,” he said.

Millsaps said there were several reasons he was excited about the new move. “Other than the fact most of our anchor spots are already sold, it’s what Blount County wants. Plus, it really shows how well we have been accepted by the readers and advertisers alike,” he said.

Millsaps said publishing twice a week was the most strategic move the paper could make in this economy. “We tell our advertisers, everyday, the companies that continue to advertise will emerge the strongest when the economy comes back,” he said.

Millsaps said Blount Today’s philosophy has always been to work hard and reinvest into the product.

“When making decisions, we try to look several years down the road, and where we want to be as a beacon in our community,” he said. “We have a great team who loves what they do, and loves the community they live and work in. We want to be here for a long time, and this is a step in the right direction.”

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