It takes a village to support a community

William E. (Bill) Garber

I was sitting beside Lacey, on the flight between Denver and San Jose earlier this week. I wouldn’t be using my drink coupons, so when he claimed the aisle seat beside me, and by way of introducing myself, I offered the pair to him. He smiled and thanked me.

Later when the flight attendant asked for our drink request, I ordered complimentary tonic water and Lacey ordered a vodka and cranberry juice. When they arrived, mine had the lime in it. Lacey mentioned that he had ordered a Cape Cod, but hadn’t called it that and hadn’t asked for the lime. I had forgotten to skip the lime, so it all worked out just fine when my lime ended up in Lacey’s Cape Cod. He remembered the absent lime an hour later when he ordered his second Cape Cod.

That really has nothing to do with why this little story is on the Interlink website, of course, other than a little background on how Lacey became the hero of this story.

Lacey had brought the Sunday Denver Post on board in its plastic wrapper for convenience and was artfully reading a section of the broadsheet in the cozy pitch between two too-narrow airplane seats. I asked him if he lived in Denver and he replied that he lived in San Jose and had been visiting his sister, I believe, and had taker her Sunday paper to read on the plane.

To drag along a Sunday Post onto an airplane it was obvious Lacey liked newspapers. I mentioned something to that point, and he smiled and said that newspapers are “important.”

Lacy is retired from a career that included 16 years in the Navy, and the rest of his career as an engineer, thanks to an engineering degree the Navy funded with the last decade or more as a “transportation engineer” in San Jose.

Lacey then told me that he subscribes to the San Jose Mercury News, a sister paper to the Post, though he didn’t mention that part. He said, “They send me a bill every six months for about $60.” He said he always pays the bill because he wants to personally help make sure the Mercury News “survives”.

I thought that was more than interesting.

Lacey is a retiree, of what appears to be modest means. Sixteen years in the Navy was four years short of a retirement benefit. Though when he said he had the chance to work at Moffett for the military or another government program that would have gotten him to the 20-year mark, he smiled and told me the job he had at the time paid a good deal more and he took a pass. Lacey is not a man who looks back with regrets. And he knows something about money. He worked for H&R Block for a few years “on the side” and then “I went private”, he said. He has tried to retire from that, and almost has but for a few customers he just can’t say no to.

Lacey doesn’t even read the Mercury News every day, thought if there is something ‘big’ in the news, he says he always reaches for the paper. He says he always turns most of the pages in the weekend editions. And he always renews his subscription not only because he likes the paper, but because he wants the paper to live on.

We now come to the reason this note is posted by Interlink. (Yes, I’d flunk reporting 101 due to a buried lead with this one.)

Lacey is a prime illustration of an often overlooked approach to soliciting community newspaper subscriptions. When soliciting new subscriptions, publishers may well be overlooking a compelling reason to buy a subscription to a community newspaper.

Every subscription helps keep the paper alive and strengthens the paper and in turn the community it serves.

This is a proven fact that needs no footnote for any publisher.

It is just that the typical subscription appeal is focused on how valuable the paper is to the person subscribing, rather than the value of the subscription to the community.

Instead of making the case that a subscription delivers lots of coupons ‘worth hundreds of dollars’, plenty of news, and possibly pictures of the kids or grandchildren, how about simply asking non-subscribers to subscribe because their subscription will help keep the paper well and strong and that is important because the community needs a strong community newspaper?

Can it really be that simple?

In fact, there is solid research support for exactly that.

In a wonderful read and from a NYT #1 Bestseller, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others, (for your convenience – ) Daniel Pink reports on a most interesting study. Researches wanted to encourage hospital visitors and employees to wash their hands or use disinfectant gel to prevent the spread of infections. Hospital infections kill roughly three times as many people as automobiles kill in the U.S. every year.

With that motivation, Pink reports that researchers posted three different signs and measured their results by weighing the containers when the signs went up, and after the signs had been posted for a time.

The three different signs read:

Hand Hygiene Prevents You from Catching Diseases

Hand Hygiene Prevents Patients from Catching Diseases

Gel in, Wash out

Now the most effective sign, by far was the ‘other-focused’, rather than ‘self-focused’ appeal or the ‘non-specific’ appeal which both tied for last place.

The researchers ran a second test, using just the first two messages. Instead of measuring the weight of the containers, they employed people to observe employees as they passed the signs. “Once again, the personal-consequences sign had zero effect. But the sign appealing to purpose boosted hand washing by 10% overall and significantly more for the physicians.” P 216.

As the saying should say, It takes a village to support a community!

And pretty much any person understands that. Supporting others is powerfully compelling to many, and I would venture to say most of the non-subscribers in every village with a community newspaper would agree.

Now, I turn to your newspaper. If you have first-hand evidence of the success of this appeal in seeking new subscriptions, please share it with us. You can reach me at with your story and I’ll pass it along. Indeed, be the reporter who tells the stories of the new subscribers to your newspaper. Publish the stories in your paper. And don’t overlook the stories of the long-time Lacey’s who have subscribed to your newspaper for decades. Tell their story in terms of why they subscribe to your paper.

If you are sampling non-subscribers, how about including three or four such stories about new and long-time subscribers on the insert you include with every sampled paper mailed out? Their stories could help you turn ‘sampled households’ into ‘subscriber households’ and be a big boost to your newspaper’s success.

How is that working for you?

Do let me know.

And let me share it here.

I really like good newspaper stories!