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Electrical Engineering Student, A Business Graduate
JS Online: Newspapers on the edge
Duane DeYoungDuane DeYoung, publisher of the Woodville Leader, the Spring Valley Sun and the Elmwood Argus, plus a shopper, pastes down type for the Leader.The three newspapers are some of the smallest weekly circulation papers in the state. Photo/Michael Sears With three papers to publish, Duane DeYoung leaves the Woodville Leader to travel to nearby Spring Valley, where he will work on getting the Sun ready to print.Photo/Michael Sears In the offices of the Spring Valley Sun, Duane DeYoung uses an antique paper cutting machine to trim sample ballots to size. Photo/Michael Sears DeYoung fields a telephone call on advertising at the Woodville Leader, where a frugal owner - DeYoung - sets the heat in winter at 60 degrees.DeYoung is the Leader's editor - he's also the paper's publisher, circulation manager, advertising manager, owner and only full-time employee - but he doesn't especially like creating headlines.He doesn't like writing either.Or selling ads."Why am I doing this?"he repeated when asked that question earlier in his 17-hour day."God only knows."He actually has good reasons, but immediate financial reward isn't among them.He draws no salary.His accountant tells him his business, with about $180,000 in sales, made money last year, but not much.And now, after a pre-dawn to dark shift of taking photographs, picking up ad copy, laying out newspaper pages, laboring at the keyboard - DeYoung can't touch-type - and, finally, covering a raucous Village Board meeting, he's ready to go home.The work's not done.DeYoung still has to fill some blank spots in the Leader's sister papers, the Elmwood Argus and the Spring Valley Sun.And after all the pages are composed, he still has to pack them in one of his aging cars and drive 30 miles to his printer in Amery, who wants the material by about 6 a.m. each Wednesday.But if DeYoung keeps chugging along and wraps things up tonight, it might put him on the road around bar time, and he doesn't like that prospect."So it's just best," he says before tapping out his final headline, "to call it a day and get up again at 4:30."Putting out three of the state's smallest newspapers each week is no small job.***By the count of industry trade journal Editor & Publisher, there are about 6,600 weeklies in the United States.The Leader, Sun and Argus, with respective circulations of about 475, 430 and 350, appear to fall well within the smallest 3%."We eat spaghetti a lot," DeYoung said.DeYoung is 37, with a round shape and a sly smile.He seems tranquil - despite the occasional 17-hour day - and good-humored.Early in his newspaper career, he wrote a column, "The Editor's Shorts."It ran under a grainy photo of DeYoung in baggy plaid Bermudas and dark socks.But he doesn't feel he should publish his personal observations on the local scene anymore.After all, he's also Woodville's municipal judge.DeYoung, who was elected to the $100-a-month post in 2000 and is unopposed this year, isn't a lawyer.He's a former electrical engineering student, a business graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and a person who, as he describes it, can easily complicate his life if he has a little extra time on his hands."I just get involved in way too many things," he said.He has, among other ventures, owned a restaurant, dabbled in land development, raised hay and set his father up in the recycling business.He was living in Woodville and working at a precision molding firm - he started as a machine operator and ended as compensation manager - when the Leader became available.As DeYoung tells it, the owner was ready to close shop and walk away.DeYoung bought the paper for just $11,500.Despite being an editor who doesn't like to write and an advertising salesman who doesn't like to sell, DeYoung found aspects of his chosen business that appealed to him.He enjoys being in the middle of things and loves small-town life.He thinks nothing of leaving the Leader office unattended and unlocked when heading out on errands.He keeps his car keys in the ignition.He likes being near his kids and taking them to events he covers, like the Aloha Carnival coming up in Elmwood.He likes relying on himself, with fault or credit clear.And he likes the challenges he faces.To do this work full-time, though, he knew he'd need more than one tiny weekly.So when the Sun and Argus were dangled before him, he bit - for $165,000."It's a lot," acknowledged DeYoung, who put $10,000 down and has been paying the former owner $1,300 a month."It's way more than what I should have paid."But who could resist a deal that included the weeklies, a shopper, a building in downtown Spring Valley and enough old printing equipment to fill a small museum - a Ludlow system for setting hot-metal type, a lead-melting oven, letterpresses, a hulking mechanical cutter that can slice through paper four inches thick, cases filled with blocks of wood type.Just one full alphabet of such type, DeYoung said, easily commands $35 on eBay.He probably has thousands of blocks of the stuff.***A little more than halfway through his production day, DeYoung is in Spring Valley, helping 15-hour-a week employee Debbie Gregerson lay out the Argus and Sun.They're a little short of copy, which, in the case of the Argus, is partly due to the recent ice storm.DeYoung pays her $10 a week.Neither circumstance hinders her from working the telephone like an eager young police reporter, collecting word of village comings and goings: "Friends were glad to hear that Frank Tomlinson has his airplane ticket for his spring visit to Elmwood.""Reports are that the pancake breakfast sponsored by the American Legion was a success in spite of the weather on Sunday."Sometimes she kicks out 25 to 30 column-inches worth of items, but this week it's only 14."She apologized," DeYoung says.But DeYoung has plenty of syndicated material to fill out the Argus."I've got a guy who buys 10 papers every time I do it," DeYoung says.It's not his only revenue-enhancing tactic.The papers used to charge $5 if someone wanted to publish a note thanking the community for sympathy after a family death.DeYoung raised the price to $10 but offered to run the notices free with a subscription.He figures he has snagged 30 to 40 new customers that way.He had a different pitch for closeout and surplus merchant C&M Liquidators.C&M - where the goods range from hydraulic jacks and masonry trowels to ceramic figurines of poker-playing frogs - bills itself as "the fun place to shop."Whobetter, DeYoung suggested, to sponsor a "Fun Page?"And that's just what they now do, with the advertising revenue paying for a page full of comics, puzzles and other syndicated features - and yielding a bit of profit, too."I'm telling you, as the smallest papers in the state, you have to do things differently," DeYoung says.He also plays a few angle shots.His "office" in Elmwood - necessary to retain rights to print the local legal notices, an important revenue source - is a small, sparsely furnished space that used to be a chiropractor's laundry room.You enter from an alley.Nor is DeYoung above catering to advertisers a bit.Wrestling with the Sun's copy shortage, he falls back on a press release from a hospital in Menomonie, nearly 20 miles away, for prominent display.It may not be very newsworthy, DeYoung says, but he has space to fill.And, he says of the hospital, "they're a paying advertiser.In a small newspaper, you really do have to work that stuff in."The afternoon is getting late, and DeYoung decides to finish making up the Sun and Argus that evening in Woodville.But first he settles on the lineup.For prominent display in the Sun, he chooses a picture of the high school band parent of the year rather than a feature photo of students playing at a music concert.Rounding out the cover of the Argus will