The Seatons of today—various members of whom own papers in Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and most recently, Colorado—believe they’ve survived because they hewed to the basics. They focus intensely on local news and believe readers reward them by maintaining their subscriptions. Kansas State University and the local Army base, Fort Riley, sustain the town and the Mercury’s numbers. Circulation levels may also be aided by the subscriber-only website. (Because of the competition for readers, K-State sports stories are free.) Craigslist has decimated the paper’s classifieds, nullifying college kids as a source of revenue, but Manhattan has no local television affiliates. So if you want the news in the Little Apple, you’re going to have to pay the Mercury for it. And local news is what you’ll get.

The March 2 issue of the Mercury featured one front-page AP story, but only because it concerned Fred Phelp’s notorious gay-hating Westboro Church, which is in nearby Topeka. In that morning’s budget meeting, Ed and Ned Seaton and two senior editors discussed the census, the school-board budget, and a nearby animal science lab. They anticipated complaints from certain local big wigs, and discussed the recent Rotary meeting. They also got word that day that the Mercury had won thirteen first-place Awards of Excellence from the Kansas Press Association for 2010 across a field of writing, editing, and photography categories.

 

Bret J. Schulte is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Arkansas. He has previously written for U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, among other publications.