This month marks the golden anniversary of the New Town Press, which published its first issue in October of 1970.
It’s rare to find a print newspaper celebrating 50 years of circulation, but our very own community-based news source has reached that elusive milestone.
Since 1984, newspaper circulation in the United States has been in steady decline. According to a 2016 Pew Research study, only 20 percent of American adults got their news from print papers, with preferences steadily shifting to TV and online sources.
Not surprisingly, the number is even smaller for tech-savvy 18 to 29-year-olds, as only five percent reported getting their news from a print paper.
Advertising budgets are often the first to be cut when businesses hit hard times, and the COVID-19 Pandemic has been no exception. This, in turn, has adversely affected advertising income for the New Town Press. But despite both the industry shift and the pandemic, the newspaper has managed to survive.
The New Town Press published its first issue in October 1970. Its publisher was Swedesboro resident Robert Dunn.
Being dissatisfied with what he had called the petty gossip and personal attacks found in the local paper at the time, the Swedesboro News, Dunn decided to launch a competing paper filled with news and information relevant to community members. Dunn had been a previous owner and editor of The Swedesboro News.
At the time, it was unusual to have two community newspapers, especially in such a small town. And so, the battle of the newspapers began, and The New Town Press came out the winner. The Swedesboro News closed its doors.
A sufferer of Parkinson’s disease, Dunn ran the paper until 1989 when he decided to retire. His wish was to sell the paper to someone who would continue keeping the local news alive in Swedesboro and the extended community.
Dunn had to look no further than his own employee, Swedesboro resident, Karen Viereck.
While a journalism student at Rutgers University, Viereck worked for Dunn as a reporter covering municipal meetings during her summer breaks. As her employer, Dunn knew that Viereck embraced local. So, a deal was made and Viereck became the new owner, publisher, and editor-in-chief of the New Town Press.
While Viereck held those titles of publisher and editor-in-chief when she first acquired the monthly paper, in actuality, it was a one-woman show.
She planned, researched, and wrote to fill the 16 to 24 tabloid-sized pages each month. This meant conducting interviews, copy editing, proofreading, and designing and laying out the entire paper. At that time everything was done by cutting stories into columns and pasting them by hand onto the layout boards.
She was also the advertising sales department where she sold, designed, typeset the ads, and guided ad clients through the approval process. She also did the accounting, drove the plates to the printer, reviewed proofs, managed the mailing list and subscriptions, and delivered the printed paper to the distributing businesses.
Just the extensive list of duties is exhausting.
No one runs a local newspaper to get rich or garner fame. The dedication Viereck displayed by putting her all into producing the paper each month came solely from her dedication and commitment to local news.
“I’ve always been passionate about local news, even before I bought the paper. I worked hard because I really wanted it to succeed and for the community to keep reading quality local news stories,” Viereck confirmed.
When Viereck first started publishing the New Town Press, her third child had just turned six weeks old, so she decided to work out of her home in Swedesboro where she lived then, and along with her husband Les, raise her children, Katie, Lauren and Mark. She has a lot of understanding and sympathy for those parents whose office has now changed to their home due to COVID.
Over time, Viereck hired employees, many of whom especially in the early days, were women who were on leave from their job while raising their children. Viereck elaborated, “I am proud of the fact I could help stay-at-home moms keep their foot in the door, doing something professional, while still raising their kids.”
Eventually, Viereck expanded the paper to include columns like the Hometown Living section that reports “good news” and continues to keep readers aware of what’s happening in their community.
Viereck now has seven employees. One of those is Angel Lucas, who has been an advertising salesperson for the New Town Press for over 20 years.
Lucas cited her early recollection of the paper. “Since living in Swedesboro, I used to wait for this monthly paper to come in the mail, and I would sit with my cup of coffee and read it cover to cover.”
“It captures the events in our little town and the surrounding towns, with interesting features, school news, engagements of people we know, marriage announcements and obituaries,” Lucas continued.
“I have learned that people who are new to our area use the paper to see what restaurants are opening and to read about the current events or to look at our business directory when they need a plumber, handy man or another professional.”
Lucas added that her favorite part of the job is communicating with the area’s finest professionals. “I have developed such a great relationship with many of the businesses and truly look forward to talking to them each month when I send reminders regarding ad deadlines.”
Another column Viereck added is the popular “Cook’s Corner,” written by food enthusiast Jean Redstone.
“I’m a huge fan of South Jersey’s farm fresh produce, and I try to present seasonal recipes and tips in my cooking column so readers can take advantage of local harvests,” Redstone said of her column.
“Sometimes recipes are a legacy from my own history. I’ll find a recipe in old, hand-written journals, for a dish my Nana served us, and that her mother or Nana served, like homemade fudge or buttermilk biscuits. Then I’ll adapt it for fresh produce. For example, add diced cherries to the fudge, blueberries, or diced apple to the biscuits,” she added.
Redstone’s passion for her topic is evident, as she continued: “These forays into family recipes actually bring with them a feeling of closeness and continuity to the past that my siblings and I and our kids can share. Arguably, this makes cooking a journey of discovery generation to generation.”
When asked about other notable columns through the paper’s decades, Viereck fondly recalls a column written by Jane DiBella that ran for about 10 years.
“’Country Comments’ began as a farm-and-garden type of article. Each month I would provide information on various plants, trees, flowers, vegetable growing, etc. These topics were close to my heart having been raised on a farm,” described DiBella.
“But there are only so many topics to successfully cover, and at some point, it evolved into more or less a chronicle of my family life,” recalls DiBella, who is now the Administrator/Clerk for Woolwich Township.
DiBella continued to describe her column and how it chronicled the raising of her family on a farm in Woolwich Township. “There were a few tear jerkers along the way,” she added. “Once in a while, there were stories about my childhood and my experiences growing up on a farm.”
Although DiBella no longer writes for the paper, she appreciates the time she spent doing so. “The column afforded me an outlet for my love of writing, and I’d like to thank Karen for giving me the opportunity to use my talent in this way.”
Another memorable moment occurred in 2016 when the paper was awarded the Spirit of Community Award. Several local individuals and organizations are honored each year with this award, which is sponsored by the Volunteer Center of South Jersey.
“We were nominated by the GCLS library system, and receiving the Corporate Excellence Award was an honor,” recalled Viereck.
When asked about the biggest story the paper has covered during the 31 years she’s been at the helm, Viereck did not hesitate.
“It’s COVID. It’s now. I try to keep the community informed, covering every governor’s press conference and reporting on the number of cases in our coverage area,” she began. “Some may call it bad news, but it’s news that people need to be aware of, and it’s my job to report it.”
“I think it’s vital to translate the numbers to the personal and to the local setting, to make it real for people. We are the only news source reporting local cases,” Viereck concluded.
When Viereck first bought the paper, the distribution was 3,300. As of the latest printing, the number has increased to a whopping 14,850. “The population of the area has skyrocketed, so the distribution number has followed,” she explained.
Although the paper does have paid subscribers, that number is small. “We mail about 100 paper subscriptions out of the area, some as far as Hawaii and for a while, even Alaska.” Most of the subscribers are people who have moved away from the area but still want to keep in touch with their hometown.
But for the local coverage area, the paper is free, and the New Town Press’ revenue stream is 99.9 percent advertising-based, with almost all placement coming from small businesses.
“Small businesses in the community have been supportive,” said Viereck. “Several advertisers have been with the paper from the very beginning, but there are fewer small businesses.” Unfortunately because of this, The New Town Press, just like all newspapers, is facing hard times.
“And with COVID it’s been worse.” Businesses have been closed or restricted, so their advertising dollars have been too. “Someone said to me that my business would be fine because everyone needs the news. I had to reminder them that someone has to pay for the news to be printed, though. There were bills to pay. That hadn’t occurred to them,” Viereck said.
“I’m fighting tooth and nail, and I’ll continue to fight. The types of businesses have changed from the local to the big chains.” Viereck hopes that big companies will want to show support for the local community by supporting the newspaper with advertising. “It will help them be more a part of the community.”
When asked how the community can help, Viereck’s answer was simple. “People can support the advertisers and let them know they saw their advertisement in the New Town Press.”
Viereck continued. “Community businesses can advertise their services. Even if they don’t have a service for the general public, they can still be part of bringing the news to the community with a Proud Supporter advertisement.”
“Having reached the half-century milestone, the New Town Press shares the history of the community,” explained Redstone who also wrote many Home Town Living feature stories. “I’ve written for newspapers large and small but rarely saw the homey neighborliness so native to the people in the New Town Press coverage area. I’ve watched the communities grow, become more urbanized, yet still maintain that general small-town atmosphere. Folks here just seem to have a knack for friendly interaction, even the politicians.”
“I’d like to congratulate the paper and wish it 50 more years of success,” Redstone concluded.
By Colleen Woods-Esposito