Hold the presses: an Idaho newspaper is growing

The Idaho Press’ printing facility runs 40,000 copies per hour with up to 30 pages in full color. Photo by Fiona Montagne.

Bucking a nationwide trend, the Canyon County-based Idaho Press newspaper chain is expanding, adding reporters and coverage areas and acquiring other newspapers. And it may not be done.

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Matt Davison, publisher

The business chose to expand to keep its high-end printing press busy, said Matt Davison, publisher for the Nampa company. In 2008, both the Idaho Press – then called the Idaho Press-Tribune – and the Idaho Statesman, a Boise-based newspaper, were shopping for new printing presses. The Idaho Press’ was sinking into an incorrectly-poured concrete pad, while the Idaho Statesman’s had been in a fire. “Why buy two presses 20 miles apart?” he asked. Instead, the Idaho Press – then owned by Pioneer News Group – bought the printing press and entered into a 20-year agreement with the Statesman to print its newspaper as well.

After Susan Scripps Wood, an owner and former board chair of Pioneer News Group, died in 2015, the family sold the company to the Adams Publishing Group, which owned several other Idaho papers, for an undisclosed price, Davison said. At that time, the Idaho Statesman wanted to renegotiate the printing contract and instead moved its printing to Twin Falls.

That left the company with an underused resource. “We had to make up the customer loss,” Davison said. “The only way to do that was new market opportunities.” The company – which by then included the daily Idaho Press-Tribune and weeklies such as the Emmett Messenger-Index, Kuna-Melba News and Meridian Press – chose to expand.

“Our best move was to deliver a high-quality print newspaper that covers the Treasure Valley from east of Boise to the Oregon border,” focusing on high school sports and city government news, he said. Mark Adams, president and CEO of Adams Publishing, “gave us a green light.”

Idaho Press editor Scott McIntosh conducts the paper’s weekly news meeting of editors, reporters and photographers. Photo by Fiona Montagne.

Since then, the Idaho Press – it dropped the “Tribune” – has purchased the Boise Weekly, a Boise-based alternative weekly newspaper also printed in Nampa, for an undisclosed price. It added seven editorial positions, including a photo editor, sports editor and three Boise reporters. Purchasing the Boise Weekly also gave the paper a physical footprint in Boise, four blocks from the Statehouse, Davison added.

Since the June expansion, the Idaho Press has attracted more than 2,500 new subscribers, for a total circulation of 17,000 during the week, Davison said. New subscriptions, both print and digital, are $10 a month, which he conceded doesn’t cover delivery; after the first year, the price is expected to increase to $15 a month, he said. He would not say how long he expected the subsidy to last.

Seth Ashley, an associate professor in the department of communication at Boise State University, said he is encouraged by the Idaho Press’ growth.

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Seth Ashley, Boise State associate professor

“I find it promising that they are investing in their product and their staff at a time when most outlets are contracting and some are disappearing altogether,” Ashley said. “Investing in the reporting staff — which provides the bread and butter of their product — has been a successful strategy for others who have gone that route, much more so than cutting staff to the bone as others have done. Readers notice, and some have reported turning away from their local outlets due to a decline in quality. I hope the Idaho Press expansion is successful and encourages others to do the same. The last thing we need is for the Treasure Valley to become yet another news desert.”

On the advertising side, the paper has added one outside salesperson, for a total of eight, plus nine support and management staff, Davison said. “We’re going to crawl before we walk, and walk before we run,” he said. “We want to make sure the market is receptive. Ads are important, but ads come after the customers. If our readers are passionate and can’t wait for it to be delivered, advertisers will want to be a part of that.”

The Idaho Press may not be done acquiring, though “It’s not in the pipeline right now,” Davison said. For example, it also prints the Mountain Express, a weekly paper from Sun Valley/Ketchum, and the Mountain Home News. “We believe in community print journalism,” he added.

It’s also still looking for printing work. In addition to newspapers, the company prints classified advertising newspapers, high school publications, and the Boise State University student newspaper, the Arbiter. “The Statesman was 60 percent of our capacity,” he said. “We are actively looking for customers.”

Copies of Idaho Press roll off the printer. Photo by Fiona Montagne.

Local newspapers save citizens money

There are other benefits to a successful local newspaper beyond a warm, fuzzy feeling about freedom of the press. Research shows that local newspapers save citizens money – and not just through ad circulars and coupons.

“Following a newspaper closure, we find municipal borrowing costs increase by 5 to 11 basis points in the long run,” notes Financing Dies in Darkness? The Impact of Newspaper Closures on Public Finance. “Identification tests illustrate that these results are not being driven by deteriorating local economic conditions. The loss of monitoring that results from newspaper closures is associated with increased government inefficiencies, including higher likelihoods of costly advance refundings and negotiated issues, and higher government wages, employees and tax revenues.”

Other research performed by the authors found that online news sources were not an adequate substitute for a local newspaper, according to the paper.

The paper, written by Pengjie Gao, Chang Lee and Dermot Murphy, was published July 11.