Dan Shannon, publisher of North Carolina city titles Chapel Hill and Durham Magazines, has spotted a hole in the current news publishing model.

“We have mere shadows of what newspapers used to be. We can bring Chapel Hill a lively, local newspaper,” says Shannon. “A weekly that includes things not easily accessible on the internet––like middle school and high school sports, births, deaths, marriages, divorces, land transfers, arrests, acquittals, bankruptcies and new business startups.”

Enter Chapel Hill Magazine’s The Weekly, a high-frequency print publication intended to fill the gap Shannon believes is left by newspapers currently serving the community (which include McClatchy’s local subsidiary the News & Observer). Set to debut in February 2012, a six-month beta period will ensue. During this time, The Weekly will be delivered without charge to 2,000 randomly chosen households. An additional 5,000 copies will be distributed for newsstand sale.

The Weekly will follow the business model of its parent publication. Twelve thousand affluent Chapel Hill households receive Chapel Hill Magazine for free, and it’s sold on newsstands for $5.00 an issue. The publication has an average 85 percent sell-through rate, which equates to about 1,000 copies.

Of the decision to launch a weekly print newspaper in Chapel Hill instead of Durham, Shannon says, “Chapel Hill is a smaller community, a fifth of the size of Durham. It’s more economically feasible to launch here. We’ll learn a lot. If it works here, there’s no reason why it can’t work in Durham, but you can’t plan on that yet.”

A search for edit and sales staff for The Weekly is underway, and a sales leader has already been hired. Advertising is yet another gap Shannon thinks The Weekly can fill, “Local advertisers have all but abandoned the local papers for our magazines, but our frequency (or lack thereof) doesn’t always serve them. With a weekly frequency we think realtors, banks, retailers, restaurants, entertainment venues and so on, will have a new and better to way to reach their customers and prospects.”

The Weekly will have a web presence in addition to the core print product, on which community members can connect and news will run. “There will be news, but we don’t put our magazines online,” says Shannon. “If you want the newspaper, you have to pick up the print version. Every newspaper in the country has put their content up online, and it hasn’t helped one of them a damn bit.”

Newspaper staff will be encouraged to become deeply involved with the community they report on. To that end, Shannon hopes Chapel Hill residents will gain a more holistic, organic view of their community.

“To make a bigger point, I think we’ve all lost something in the democratic process by losing all these newspapers. No one’s watching anyone anymore,” contends Shannon. “It’s really important, not because we don’t trust the town government and leaders, but it’s good we keep an eye on them.”

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