This publisher made the circulation of The Recorder in Monterey proportionally one of the highest in the U.S. How does Anne Witschey Adams do it?
With a 99.9 percent penetration rate, one of the highest in the U.S., circulation of the 136-year-old weekly newspaper, which serves Bath and Highland counties, is just about equal to the number of households in the area. And it has a long list of awards to prove why. The Recorder (circulation 4,800) has won the Virginia Press Association’s Award for Journalistic Integrity and Community Service six of the last nine years, more than any other newspaper in the state. And 46-year-old Anne Adams, who took the reins as publisher in 2007, has won two D. Lathan Mims Awards for Editorial Leadership in the Community—the VPA’s highest honor—and earned 42 other VPA awards in everything from editorial writing and investigative reporting to art and illustration.
But Adams would fall over laughing if you were to suggest she’s the towering figure in Virginia press circles that she has become. “I don’t believe in sensational reporting or cynicism,” says Adams. “I don’t believe there’s room for that in community journalism, or in newspapers generally. I believe in reporting the facts—sometimes bluntly—and giving folks commentary, steeped in those facts.”
Adams, a Tulane art-educated former waitress who says her first “real job” was as an advertising rep at the paper she now owns, purchased The Recorder from retiring former editor and publisher, Lea Campbell, after serving as its general manager for 10 years.
Adams did not have enough money for a down payment, but the community believed in her, and five co-signers helped her secure a bank loan. Adams made a tough deal to buy the tabloid-sized newspaper, telling her backers that newspaper decisions were hers alone and that integrity was absolute.
“Anne Adams has guts,” says Jane See White, former reporter and editorial writer for The Roanoke Times. “She understands the challenges the community faces, and as the editorial voice of The Recorder, she doesn’t hesitate to lay it all out for her readers.”
Publishing is not always smooth and predictable, especially when The Recorder starts digging in dark corners. Adams once investigated a local medical center director and found he wasn’t who he said he was, though he had become popular in the community—he was later dismissed. She has faced threats, too, including the time a builder drew back his fist to hit her. She thought fast and pointed to her eight-months-pregnant belly. He stalked off.
Though producing a weekly newspaper can be consuming, Adams has managed to blend work and family without a lot of fanfare. For years, she had a crib in her office and has taken her six children along on assignments: “I had my first child one year after I became general manager. …. Turns out, having babies around is really good for stressed out staff, particularly on deadline.”
Fair, honest, direct and fearless, Adams is above all, genuine. “I’m not a good writer,” she says. “I don’t have the turn of phrase or the vocabulary. I’m not a good editor, either. I am a better reporter, because I’m nosy as hell and I ask a lot of questions.”
I bought The Recorder because I desperately needed a job. I was afraid if Lea sold it to someone else, I’d get laid off. I had a family to support, and Lea had spoiled me. I didn’t want to work for anyone else. I had long ago fallen in love with The Recorder, with this area, and with my job. I didn’t want to do anything else, anywhere else.
This is a really damned hard way to make a living, but we’ve got a home, a big backyard, and we can usually keep groceries in the pantry and pay the bills. We had to refinance the house last year; that helped reduce mortgage payments. We don’t have a dime in savings, and no money for college. Hope the kids will get scholarships, or maybe join the military! I have not had a raise in about a decade, since before I bought the paper. When things were tight a couple of years ago, I stopped paying myself altogether for a while. We’re comfortable, though.
People often believe reporters should be objective. I don’t think anyone can be objective. But fair, you bet.
I’m very sad when newspapers fail. Community newspapers are critical to the areas they serve. If they’re good at their mission—to provide information—the result is an active, informed citizenry. That said, I don’t believe print journalism is necessarily required to fulfill that mission. If there’s a way to inform people, we’ll use it. We will remain in print as long as we can pay the printing bills.
If I flub on facts or perspective or context, I fail. If I succeed in informing my readers, and especially if I inspire them to action, that’s a win for my entire community.
Using ‘citizen journalists’ doesn’t bother me. We’ve been using them for 136 years.
We run long stories because I’m not a good editor and I like to know every single angle, from as many sources as possible. Our readers are willing to invest the time reading. They are older and less apt to skim through headlines.
A strong editorial page is the sign of a strong newspaper doing its job. If folks have something to say, we let them say it however they like, for the most part. I do not foresee cutting down on content on the letters page or in our reporting.
My children learned that sending me an email is a faster way to get a response from Mama. How pathetic is that?
This is my Disneyland. It is everything I could want. TheRecorderOnline.com