Beginning Aug. 8, the Fulton Sun will be switching to seven days of a digital edition and a one-day printed newspaper.
Walter Hussman Jr., president of WEHCO Media, which owns the Fulton Sun, announced the change in a letter to subscribers last week. The change follows two consecutive years of financial losses at the paper and 14 years of declining advertising revenue across the whole newspaper industry, he said.
WEHCO has owned the Fulton Sun for 12 years now, and the company believes it is important for Callaway County to continue receiving timely local news — especially during the turbulence of the ongoing pandemic and upcoming election.
"We are convinced the only way for the Fulton Sun to continue daily publication is with a digital replica edition to tablets like iPads and smartphones seven days a week, along with delivering a weekend print edition," Hussman explained.
Each week, subscribers will receive a super-sized Saturday print edition through the mail and on racks in town, plus daily digital editions delivered electronically. Subscription prices will remain the same.
These digital editions may be accessed through the Fulton Sun app — downloadable from your device's app store — or online at bit.ly/2Vlnpzv. They'll be laid out just like the print edition, but the digital format will allow for even more color pictures, interactive puzzles and videos on the page. A few swipes of the finger will allow readers to enlarge the print, share stories with friends or ask the app to read an article aloud.
"The most popular thing about it is, when you look at the paper on the tablet, you can put your two fingers together, put them on an article, spread your fingers apart and the type gets much larger," Hussman said during a phone conversation Friday. "People can take their reading glasses off."
Though the device must have internet access — either over wifi or data — to download the digital edition each day, once it's downloaded, readers can enjoy it anywhere. Rain and snow will never delay its delivery. The app can save up to 60 past editions on your device, and it gives you free access to the newspaper's archives.
"If you're out of town, you can download it and read it, then when you get back home you don't have papers piled up," Hussman said.
Readers who don't have access to a compatible tablet may rent an iPad from the company for $9.95 per month — call 573-761-0234 for more information.
"The method of delivering to readers is being altered, and while some may find it disruptive, I'm hopeful providing seven days of coverage, a beefier print Weekend Edition, and the iPad rental program with local training speaks to our commitment," said David Meadows, general manager of Central Missouri Newspaper Inc.
To ease the transition, the company has set up a customer service helpline. Call 573-761-0234 seven days a week, from 6 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday or 7 a.m.-noon Saturday and Sunday. WEHCO is also sending a team to aid those who need an extra helping hand. Set up an appointment by calling the above number.
"We're going to have people come to Fulton; they'll actually sit down and show people how to download the app, load papers and get the most out of the experience," Hussman said. "We find that when we sit down and show people how to use it, we have much greater retention of those subscribers."
While the Fulton Sun is the first WEHCO paper in Missouri to make this switch, the company has implemented similar models at several papers in Arkansas. WEHCO's flagship paper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won media industry accolades for its "iPad initiative." That paper, which circulates in 75 counties, is switching to a seven-day digital edition plus a Sunday print edition.
Since then, the model has found success at the Camden News and Magnolia Banner News — two papers in Arkansas towns similar in size to Fulton — among others, Hussman said.
Even older readers have learned to love the digital edition, he said. Several times, he's been approached by readers who didn't care for the change at first, but after a few weeks decided they liked the app even more than the print edition.
"We have one subscriber in Magnolia (Arkansas) who's 106, and he's reading it every day," Hussman said.
For those readers who prefer a print paper, the Saturday print edition will be available for $2 at newspaper racks around the county, just like the paper is today. It will also be delivered weekly to all subscribers through the mail.
"You can expect the Saturday 'weekend' newspaper to have more pages of news and sports than a typical weekday edition while still receiving regular Sunday inserts a day earlier," Hussman wrote. "A Saturday publication will now allow us to cover high school sports 'live' for next-day print publication, something we haven't done in many years."
The Saturday edition will feature new stories, a recap of major stories from the previous week, all the obituaries from the previous week, an extra-large Kingdom Pages section, more sports and more of your opinions.
"What this change to the Fulton Sun shows is that, as challenging as these times are, we remain committed to this community and committed to journalism," Meadows added. "I'm hopeful the community will support this change and come alongside us as we seek a sustainable way to continue strong community journalism."
The Fulton Sun will continue to share information as Aug. 8 nears.