Column by Sumter Item Publisher Vince Johnson: Changes at The Item will make larger community impact, benefit advertisers


How does The Sumter Item make the largest impact for a better Sumter?

How do we sustain local news in Sumter, Clarendon and Lee counties at a time when similar communities are losing their local news sources across the country?

How do we best serve our advertisers and our engaged readers?

These are questions I think about a lot. These are the questions that led to the changes at The Item announced today.

These changes are going to make Sumter better. These changes are going to make The Item more sustainable and allow our staff to continue producing exceptional local news. These changes are going to benefit local advertisers immensely, and our subscribers are going to continue to receive the quality and quantity of local journalism they have come to expect.

I think, and I'm told this from newspaper industry peers across the country, that The Item is one of the best small-town local news sources in the country. We wouldn't be where we are without the support of our communities, and I ask our communities to support these changes as well.

One of the issues that bothers me most in local news is the cost required to receive it. I believe the world is better, and our communities are better, if everyone is informed, even if they can't pay for that information.

However, The Item is a private small business, and that's a good thing. We're independent and able to shine a spotlight on our communities, but local news costs a lot to produce.

That's why our subscribers and our advertisers are so important. Without our subscribers, advertisers and the ingenuity of our staff and local ownership, The Item simply wouldn't exist, a local news-less reality faced by thousands of communities similar to Sumter in recent years. Without going too far into it, the absence of local news causes great problems for those communities.

In creating The Sumter Item Impact - a free monthly newspaper that will be delivered by mail to more than 28,000 households in Sumter County - we're opening up access to local news for the vast majority of Sumter. Yes, our subscribers will receive a lot more local news and access to new local content every day, but for those unwilling or unable to pay, they'll receive some local news, too.

The Item Impact is going to be some of our best local journalism, and it's going to inform all of Sumter about the people, events and issues they need to know. It's also going to be an advertising platform for our local businesses and organizations, an advertising platform unmatched in Sumter County in decades.

Advertisers can reach everyone around Sumter and Shaw Air Force Base each month, dry in mailboxes and without the digital clutter.

For our great newspaper subscribers upset about the change in delivery days from five days a week to two, know that we understand, and we didn't make this decision lightly. We need you as subscribers now more than ever, and we're fully committed to continue producing the great local journalism you've come to know.

Printing and delivery is incredibly expensive, and it has increased in cost immensely in recent years. Rather than cutting the number of local journalists creating local news, we're cutting those print and delivery costs.

We know our digital audience is much larger than our print audience today, but we also know how loyal and passionate our newspaper subscribers are. We are committed to large, exceptional newspapers filled with local news twice a week. We hope that you understand the decision, and we ask that you continue receiving The Sumter Item.

Of course, anyone who has followed The Item closely over the past few years knows how we've evolved. Today, we have more than 35,000 residents who receive our email newsletters daily, a large social media presence, some of the area's largest events like Best of Sumter, the area's premier magazines, a host of engaging video series and more.

We're committed to providing the Sumter region with the best local news in the country for years to come. I believe these changes are steps toward that goal.

Vince Johnson is publisher of The Sumter Item.