Valley Sentinel moves to a bi-weekly model to offer more in-depth content, better serve and build community

Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief and Taylor Scott, Managing Editor

A view of our newsroom, with three of our favorite quotes featured. Photo by Taylor Scott, Managing Editor

We’ve shared many times some of the quotes that grace the wall of our newsroom. We’ve definitely focused on the first, making things work and then making them work better. We’ve definitely focused on the second quote and we’ve called people and powers-that-be out where necessary. The third quote we haven’t covered enough because — frankly — in the moment or in retrospect, we don’t think we’ve been able to adequately taste life enough. 

We are on the most solid footing that we ever have been, in the entire time that we have published. However, this publication isn’t an easy endeavor and we haven’t had the time to adequately taste life in the present while experiencing it here in our community, or in the retrospect while writing about it, we literally have not had the time — and that’s frustrating, because it affects how adequately we’re able to share things with the community through stories. When we’re doing well it shouldn’t feel like we’re spinning our wheels and not going in the creative direction we want as deep as we would like to.

So we’re announcing a change to a bi-weekly print schedule. The change to publishing every other week is indefinite. We’ll do an internal check-in around our Best of the River Valley reader poll in June and a decision-making check-in around our second anniversary of publishing in October.

You also might have noticed that our front page looks different. These are the types of things that we will be playing around and experimenting with. It may not not stay this way, it may evolve — ideally it will evolve. 

The four page edition was a deliberate choice as well. These types of announcements shouldn’t be made in memos, emails or strictly on social media. We’re in the middle of this transition, this four page edition allows us to put more effort into next week’s special section and allows more time for planning for the future. 

The transition starts next week, but we want to emphasize that nothing is going to happen overnight. Yes, this is our first stepping stone towards something bigger and better. Things might feel like the status quo for now, for the first few months and into spring, but we are building better.

From the beginning, we’ve always known we didn’t want to just be your typical weekly paper. We are trying to break away from that mold. We do some things in that aspect really well and we’ll continue to do those, but we also want to add in different aspects as well.

Print is our main focus and main product. But we’ve always promised to innovate. And we feel like this is the next step in doing that. This first step of switching to bi-weekly will eventually allow more content, more community engagement, engaging across different platforms. We’ve always said we want to reach people where they want to be reached. Right now, we’re not doing that well on social media and online. We’re reaching great in print right now, but that’s not everyone’s medium. While we’re doing so great in print, other aspects are failing — and that’s not cool. 

So we want to build out the infrastructure to be online every day (in some form) and in print bi-weekly. This will allow us to inform our community and work to build community, 

Last week we did a soft launch of our Impulse Initiative, an endeavor to take the community’s ideas and find support for them to turn them into reality. Things like that will not get engagement if we don’t build out the infrastructure. 

In an oversaturated world, we’ve created something we believe is truly special, in a place that is truly special. We have a good mix of really strong content that includes a curated digest of engaging external voices and original internal content. We want to refocus on really strong stories, whether that’s investigative, arts and culture-related, community related, and so on. We’d like the time that would, for example, allow for an overhaul of the Community Calendar to be really effective, attention grabbing and creative, pulling us in the direction that we believe provides the best resource for the community.

We have a really great, passionate group of contributors. It takes a lot of energy and time and people to do this and, while we have a really great group, it’s just not enough. To be able to continue doing this, the workflow has got to change. We think, along with that workflow changing, it will bring a lot of really positive changes for the community, for our content and for our readers. 

You might have noticed, we’ve had a lot of special editions lately. And that’s on purpose, because we think they add a lot of value as community resources, value to community businesses and just general community-building. We want to be able to do those bigger and better and we can’t do that if we only have four days to work on each edition.

We want to lean into being a resource for the community, lean into being a platform for building community. This includes outside of the paper proper, hearkening back to our Impulse Initiative, things like Winter After Dark and other community ideas and what we want to do there. These are just the beginning of the community-type things that we want to be doing.

We believe in a variety and depth of journalism. We are trying our best to be different. We are so lucky to be able to get local hard news, arts & culture, events and more weekly, bi-weekly and monthly here. We don’t view moving to a different schedule as a loss of journalism. We want to be something different. If something is big, we’ll lean into that a little bit because ultimately, we are still reporters. If tomorrow, an area village president is found to be embezzling or a board is breaking open meetings law, we’re going to cover that, and if we’re bi-weekly, we can dig a little deeper.

Valley Sentinel implies a certain watchdog, and we have been struggling with that due to manpower and time. Nothing is going to change overnight, but having more time will allow for us to cover things more in depth or cover a wider variety of things and you should be looking for more concrete changes in spring.

We can’t imagine anyone is going to argue with more content. We always promised to grow, to be something better and to innovate. We’ve always said this paper may not look the same a year from now, two years from now, and that’s really where we’re at. We’re upholding that promise to innovate and change and try what works for our community. We’re not afraid to admit if this doesn’t work. If this doesn’t work, we’ll try something new.

While we further expand our offerings virtually and build out infrastructure, in print our advertisers now get two weeks in the community for the price of one, allowing more opportunity for specific calls to action or top of mind awareness. We look forward to working with area businesses to find what works best for them and how we can help engage with the community.

Rounding it out, we have often printed the words “first make it work then make it work better,” and we think this is how we can make it work better — Better content. Better engagement. Better community, and a better community-building platform.