This piece is part of a series highlighting stories from the front lines of local news reporting in Virginia. It is presented as part of the Virginia Local News Summit, co-hosted with the University of Virginia’s Karsh Institute of Democracy which took place April 20-21, 2023.
By Christopher Connell for Foothills Forum
Danny Clark takes exception to the State of Local News project’s judgment that King and Queen County is a news desert. “We’ve had a local paper for the last 33 years,” said the publisher of the Country Courier, a twice-a-month publication filled with feel-good features and ads. But the State of Local News counts only dailies and weeklies, and it assesses whether they publish enough hard news, including covering local government and school boards.
Clark left a successful career in sales to strike out on his own in the community news business in 1989. He made up a mock newspaper and walked it around to local businesses, asking if they’d be interested in running ads. They were.
“We netted $147 from the first issue. I said, ‘This is great,’” said Clark, 75, who gets to the office two or three days a week when he’s not riding his Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic. He relies on an editor and three-person office staff. “We seem to get the bills paid and everybody gets a little paycheck,” he said.
The Country Courier covers some “hot potatoes,” as Clark calls them, like a current dispute over whether books in the school library should be labeled if they have content about being gay.
But more often it runs stories such as one on a charity dodgeball tournament or what to do with an injured baby squirrel.
His is a “TMC” publication, an acronym for Total Market Coverage, a term for advertising distributed to everyone living in a targeted area. “If you have a mailbox in King William [County] and King and Queen” – and 8,500 households do – “we’re going to put it in there,” said Clark. “It’s something to hold in your hand when you get home or have a moment to relax. I tell people, ‘If you don’t like it, put it in your birdcage.’”