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People of the Year 2013 | John & Jennifer Garrett

Publishers, Community Impact Newspaper

An old-school approach to printing the news.

To thrive in today’s media landscape, companies are constantly reinventing the way they create, package, and deliver content. But while publishers scramble to optimize their products for iPhone consumption and Facebook traction, Pflugerville natives John and Jennifer Garrett of Community Impact Newspaper focus on entirely different mobile and social strategies: postal route carriers and conversations between neighbors.

The husband-and-wife team launched the monthly print edition of Community Impact in 2005. John’s sales experience at the Austin Business Journal convinced skeptical advertisers and Jennifer’s acumen for human resources and accounting balanced the books. “He’s more extroverted, I’m more introverted,” Jennifer explains of their working relationship. “It’s never a battle because our personalities are so complementary.”

With editorial guidance from John’s high school journalism teacher Cathy Kincaid (who now serves as executive editor), the first issue was delivered to the mailboxes of 60,000 residents of Round Rock and Pflugerville, just as those areas were being transformed by a series of new toll roads. “Most of the other publications were talking about the debate over whether we should have toll roads, but they were already being built, so all everyone wanted to know was where they were going and how much they were going to cost,” John says. “We were the first to actually publish the entry and exit ramps.”

The no-nonsense approach to hyper-local journalism has struck a chord with readers. Instead of coloring civic news with opinion or industry jargon, Community Impact prides itself on delivering a non-biased and easy-to-understand solution to today’s media glut. And rather than clutter up email inboxes or fight for bandwidth, the monthly paper went all-in on a decidedly old-school direct mail strategy. “We write the paper so everyone can understand it,” Jennifer says. “And since everyone gets it in the mail, it makes it easy for the community to know what’s going on rather than just the insiders.”

This underdog mentality led the company to adopt the myth of David and Goliath into their mission statement. “We’re David, we’re small,” says John. “The Statesman, The Chronicle, The Dallas Morning News, these are giants. David wasn’t scared of Goliath because he knew what he could do with his slingshot.” And although the goal isn’t to topple these other publications, Community Impact’s ammunition has proven strong enough to grow it into a serious player in the local landscape. While juggling the responsibilities of raising three young daughters, John and Jennifer have expanded the company to a staff of 100 that publish unique editions in 15 regions throughout Central Texas, Houston, and Dallas. They now have a robust web presence and a weekly email version, but the priority is still on the physical product. They send out one million newspapers per month and issues often top 60 pages. “We’re the post office’s best friend,” Jennifer jokes.

When asked how their print publication has managed to thrive contrary to digital media trends, John seems to relish the question. “A lot of people think that digital is the future, but I just don’t see how local news is going to be done well digitally. We can’t build a business based on someone searching Google to find out when 183 will be done. We think that that kind of news has to be delivered to us. And if it’s done right, we’ll look at it. It’s not that people are sick of paper, the phone is just more convenient.”

Community Impact’s print gamble has paid off, with revenue over $12 million in 2013. But if you look under the hood, their advertising model actually has more in common with Google Ads than one might think. Small businesses that can’t afford a full ad in their local edition can advertise via inserts that target the specific postal routes surrounding their businesses. “We’ll sometimes have 21 versions of the same paper,” says John. “There aren’t many places in the US anymore where people can do what we do at the carrier route level.”

The newspaper’s ability to fill such hyper-local niches has resulted in a wealth of community success stories. Business profiles have revitalized struggling Mom and Pop restaurants and land development reporting has kept at least one family from literally selling their farm, but perhaps the most powerful aspect of Community Impact is its ability to harness the old-school power of print to rally a growingly disconnected populace around what’s happening in their own backyard.“There’s never been a better time to be in this business,” John says. “When people ask ‘where do you get your news,’ we want them to say Community Impact. We cannot compete with the digital world and I don’t really want to. That’s not really where it’s at.”

Credits

Photography by Randal Ford

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