DUNN — Hoover Adams, founder of The Daily Record, died July 15 at age 92, and many in the journalism world are wondering whether his hyperlocal-news formula will continue its traction as the print world reels from sluggish circulation.
Has Adams formula shielded this community newspaper against declining newspaper circulation?
Not long ago, I tried to answer those questions for Grassroots Editor, a publication for community journalism, using a combination of content analysis and focus group interviews. The findings: Adams approach succeeds because of three elements, which I call the Media Triad.
The first element is Me Media, where readers in Harnett County can submit news with the expectation it will be published sometime Monday through Friday on the inside pages.
The Daily Record began publishing Dec. 6, 1950. Adams spent those early years personally recruiting readers to submit news and instilling in his staff the need to publish as many names of residents as possible.
By 2001, The Daily Record actually led the nation in circulation penetration, selling more newspapers in its primary market than there are homes. The Wall Street Journal noted this coup in a front-page piece, and Chip and Dan Heath included the approach in their Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.
Today the newspaper remains vigorous and well-read for the second part of the triad: Menace Media.
Every time The Daily Record is published, its front page contains ugly crime news, some of it bizarre. On July 18, for instance, the newspaper reported that a Dunn man wrecked his car while fighting off a passenger who tried to choke him.
The final leg is Myopia Media, in which readers seem to want information on their neighbors.
In a rural community where families go back generations, reading the community newspaper is a quasi-Facebook free-for-all. Readers can judge the accomplishments or scandals of others and enjoy a modest sense of superiority.
While it may be tempting to deride The Daily Record for not investigating the machinations of those in power or probing for unsafe practices and unbridled greed, the criticism is off target. Just as some still fault USA Today for not digging deeper into hard news, the truth is that the mission of this national newspaper is to provide at-a-glance news for the nations 2 million commuters who fly daily.
Hoover Adams began The Daily Record to be a newspaper that chronicles the flow of the community tide, with the easy-get news from readers and the reporting of a staff of seven full-time journalists who work tirelessly to mine for a bylines worth of copy each day.
Would the Media Triad work elsewhere? Perhaps.
Harnett County remains a stable, homogenous society of 119,000 residents with a per capita income just shy of $25,000. Given similar demographics, a newspaper that uses the Media Triad where communities enjoy a long history may grow a print newspaper audience.
Nonetheless, romanticizing the glory days of the print-only product is no more productive than wishing that modern singers would croon through a megaphone like a modern-day Rudy Vallee.
For those communities where residents still meet for lunch and compare notes on people they know from childhood, The Daily Records Media Triad model will continue to have traction.
Hoover Adams is gone but his emphasis on hyperlocal is an approach that works well in community journalism.
Michael Ray Smith is a professor of communication studies at Campbell University.