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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Three Newspapers Vie for Readers in North Valley

The newsroom of the SFV News would never be mistaken for the Los Angeles Times. Or even the Daily News. In a two-story office building on Reseda Boulevard in Northridge, the offices of Synergy Media Co., the parent company of the SFV News, is made up of four sparsely-furnished rooms for its small but growing staff. It is these humble surroundings that the future of American print journalism may be getting its start. Going against a tide of an industry facing shrinking readership, dropping advertising revenue and lower circulation figures, papers such as the SFV News, which started publishing in November, step in to fill the void left behind as daily newspapers cut back on local and community coverage. “Our tagline so to speak is we want to put the unity back in community,” said Charles Beris, co-founder and CEO of Synergy Media. “That is our big thing and we hope to do that through the print media.” The SFV News covers the north San Fernando Valley, the same area served by another new newspaper The Valley Voice, which also published its first issue in November with a press run of 25,000. The two fledgling publications go up against the North Valley Community News, a monthly put out since 2003 by the North Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce. All three publications carry original reporting, re-written press releases, cartoons, opinion columns, and reviews. Differences between the three are subtle. The Valley Voice’s inaugural issue leaned heavy on political cartoons from local artists and film reviews. The Community News acts as a vehicle to communicate to a general audience issues facing area businesses. Having seen copies of the new competition, North Valley Chamber President and CEO Wayne Adelstein said he didn’t think they tried to duplicate the content of the Community News. “They’ll find their footing, their audience, and their market,” Adelstein said. If there is any place in the Valley that can support three community newspapers it is the north end, said Jim Kaplan, publisher of weekly newspapers serving Studio City, Sherman Oaks and Encino. “It’s the bedroom community of the bedroom community,” Kaplan said. “That’s what these papers are perfect for.” The reason for starting all the papers was similar to provide news and information for an area abdicated by the dailies. “People don’t have a place to express themselves,” said Mel Reiter, who calls himself advisor to the Valley Voice, which he operates with his wife and young son and a team of volunteers. Reiter and Beris said they chose the north Valley for their respective papers’ coverage area because it is where they live and work. Citizen writers “Citizen Journalism” became a buzzword in 2006, although the term refers to stories and photos submitted by readers to online sites such as the ValleyNews.com section of the Daily News website. The Valley Voice and SFV News follow a similar model but in print form. The staffs of the papers are not all professionals but include those seeking a creative outlet that can’t be found elsewhere. The SFV News has already reached out to two north Valley high schools to get students involved in writing stories and has plans to increase that number. The founders of the two new publications also fall into that category as they are not professional newspaper people. Reiter edited the student newspaper at Michigan State University and worked for a weekly labor publication in Lansing but spent his career in investing. Beris was a real estate agent who originally put out the SFV News to promote his realty services. Adelstein serves as publisher of the Community News. Kaplan and his Sun Newspapers have already walked the road that Beris and Reiter have embarked upon. For three years, he assembled the papers in his home. While publishing a newspaper takes a commitment of community involvement, resources and money the experience can be rewarding in that one feels they make a difference in the lives of their neighborhood, Kaplan said. “From that point of view I’m sure they will all be successful,” Kaplan said. Success will also be defined by the type of business model the newspapers choose, whether it is solely ad-based or funding also comes from another source, said Manley Witten, a journalism instructor at California State University at Northridge. Small retailers can prove difficult to get advertising from because they don’t have the budgets to buy ads in multiple papers or the extra money to increase an advertising budget, Witten said. “There’s only a certain amount of money to go around,” Witten said. “In order to survive you have to sell a lot of ads,” added Kaplan. “That’s going to be the hard thing. How are they going to split up the advertising revenue between the three of them.” Reiter and Beris said there should be enough advertising in the north Valley to go around for both papers. Adelstein expressed no concern about losing advertising. “With any new newspaper or magazine you have to go quite a while until you build up enough advertising to be solid,” said Reiter, a resident of Porter Ranch. Ad strategies North Valley Chamber members receive a discount to take out an ad in the Community News. Virtually all the paper’s advertisers are members and those non-members who do buy an ad tend to join, Adelstein said. A strategy used at the SFV News is to keep ad rates lower than the competition, Beris said. Since 93,000 copies are mailed to every home, apartment and business in its coverage area, what the paper offers that competing publications can not is a guarantee it gets through the door, Beris added. The Community News and Valley Voice are distributed for free. Reiter and Beris have ambitious plans for their publications. Both want to transition their monthly publication schedule into a twice-monthly and eventually a weekly schedule. Reiter forecasts taking the Valley Voice weekly in the summer of 2008. Beris also has plans to expand, first with a paper for the south Valley and then another for the mid Valley he planned to debut in the fourth quarter of 2007. Home to CSUN and the Northridge Fashion Center shopping mall, the north Valley at first doesn’t seem as if it presents itself as a place so special to attract the time and money needed to publish three community newspapers. With a change in demographics and value systems, the area is becoming like any other in Los Angeles, Adelstein said. As areas become home to growing populations of Koreans, Muslims, Armenians and Latinos, the Community News tends to do articles on the ethnic differences to show residents they shouldn’t be afraid of different cultures. “It’s good to know our neighbors,” Adelstein said.

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