I am excited to share the next installment – part 2 is the interview with Donovan Kramer Jr from Casa Grande Valley Newspapers. Their newspaper family has been involved in a lot of innovative programs to help the industry. Please read what Donovan has to say.
Why Report Local?
“Why Report Local” is a special series that showcases community newspapers throughout Arizona. The series provides a glimpse into small-town and rural newspapers, highlighting the value of being a reporter in these communities.
Donovan Kramer, co-publisher and managing editor of Casa Grande Dispatch and pinalcentral.com, talks about the benefits of working for a small-town newspaper that is at the epicenter of several growing communities in Pinal County.
What is it like to live in Pinal County?
I have lived here most of my life. It’s a great community. It has grown quite a bit. Pinal County is the county between Phoenix and Tucson. Traditionally, it has been more rural. But now it’s more of a suburban area. We have a lot of winter visitors. The population is bigger in the wintertime, but lately, it’s getting bigger all the time.
There are also a lot of new jobs here. There’s a new electric car plant that’s in Casa Grande – Lucid Motors. There are some other plants that are related to the semiconductor industry coming into the valley. There’s a lot of housing being built here, just about as fast as they can build it, and it’s considered more affordable than the Valley.
Tell us about your newspaper group — its history and structure.
Many years ago, Casa Grande Dispatch was a small weekly newspaper. It was six days a week. Now we are printing three days a week, but we’re putting out news on a daily basis and hourly sometimes on pinalcentral.com. We had separate newspapers in Florence, Coolidge, Eloy, Arizona City and Maricopa. Most of those are now part of the same newspaper, the Casa Grande Dispatch. Maricopa is the only one that still has a separate newspaper; it’s closer to the valley and bigger. We’re covering all of these communities on a daily basis through pinalcentral.com, so our website has become more and more important to us.
Do you have reporters located in all of those communities?
We do. Since we’ve streamlined, we have a reporter each in Coolidge, Florence, Ely and Maricopa. We’re committed to covering all those areas. We have a reporter who specializes in the justice beat, although the different papers in the different towns sometimes cover the criminal justice system also. We have an arts and entertainment writer. Our overall staff is 15 people.
What’s it like working as a reporter for your newspaper group?
We always tell people that the experience is good because you get to do a lot of different things. Some people come here as a first job. They might be covering local government, education or sometimes criminal justice. Entertainment is also something that we cover. One of the big things annually here in Pinal County is the music festival called Country Thunder. We send pretty much all of our staff out there on shifts to cover the festival. Reporters also get to do quite a bit with social media, with things like Instagram. We have utilized various platforms to communicate with our audience.
Do your reporters stay and grow in your organization? Or, do they tend to move on to a bigger newspaper?
We have people who have been here a number of years; they came here for their first job, and they’re now senior people in our news organization. Our executive editor, associate editor and sports editor all had their first jobs here a number of years ago. We have a photographer who has been here for decades, who had started part-time while he was in school, and he’s our main photographer still. Some people choose to move on. They go into other fields, or they go to larger organizations, or they want to live in a different part of the country.
Does working for your newspaper give reporters a good knowledge base to then take to any place they want to go?
It does. Some, not all, of our people have degrees in journalism. Some have studied it a little bit, and they learn quite a bit about reporting here. They get an opportunity to do that. There are a lot of advantages to working in an organization where you get to do a lot of things.
What pitch would you give a recent journalism graduate to get them to work for you?
I would say the ability to do a lot of different things, to cover different types of stories through different technology. There will be some big stories. We’ve had new reporters who have covered some big statewide-type issues. The other advantage to working here is we’re close to the Valley, so reporters have the opportunity to be exposed to entertainment and other things that they might be interested in.
What challenges are there in moving from a larger city to Casa Grande or one of the surrounding communities?
It used to be moving to the Southwest – a small town – was a big change for a lot of people, especially in other parts of the country. Things are more universal now. It definitely would be a smaller environment, although Phoenix is one of the biggest metro areas in the country. So, if you’re close to that, you’re close to pretty much anything you might be interested in.
Is there anything else you would like to add about the value of community newspapers?
One of the things I think is important now, and it’s obvious to many people, is that metro papers have much fewer opportunities than they used to have. The environment there is somewhat unstable because of the way their budgets fluctuate. We’re a family-owned operation; we’ve been stable; we’re committed to covering the news. We realized that over time, we needed to produce products that have to be paid for by the readers because advertising is in a different phase right now. We have a digital marketing company, so we’re doing those kinds of things, too. But we realize that our subscriptions – and we’re always pushing digital subscriptions – are really important to the future of the news business.