Washington Evening Journal
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Disclaimer: all programs and products mentioned in this article are property of the Southeast Iowa Union, which owns this paper. Still, we thought readers might be interested in what we’ve been up to.
The Southeast Iowa Union has shaken things up in the newsroom over the last several months. Alongside two new multimedia products, the paper has recently acquired a string of new papers in expanded coverage areas.
Many of those new endeavors branch out from the 144-year-old Washington Evening Journal’s printed product.
Washington Weekly Review podcast steps into audio format
In its first step into multimedia reporting, the Union added a news podcast in late September of 2021 called the Washington Weekly Review. The weekly newscast drops every Saturday morning, recapping the week’s highlights with the paper’s Washington reporter.
Like the newspaper, the Washington-centric podcast uses quotes from sources for most of its content.
Unlike the newspaper, those quotes are not read off a page, but played as sound bites.
“It’s one thing to read a quote in the newspaper, it is another thing to hear someone say it,” said Kalen McCain, the show’s host. “In some ways, you get more information, how they felt about something, how seriously they want to be taken. It’s hard to capture that with words alone.”
WWR is broken into three parts.
“The big picture“ opens each episode with a look at news that goes beyond county lines, whether it be local developments elsewhere in the Union coverage area, changes at the state legislature, or national events with local impacts.
The middle of the episode contains local news, stories from around Washington County broken down into a few relevant quotes.
The show ends on “the best news I’ve heard all week,” a lighter, feelgood story from somewhere in the county, like lottery winners, area events and stories about dogs.
The recordings are not always broadcast quality. Some quotes include the background hum of a crowd, or noisy air conditioner. Some are taken in rooms quiet enough to hear a pen scratching on a reporter’s notebook. Many have to be touched up with audio editing techniques before they’re listenable for the show.
“I think it makes the show honest, it lends some credibility to the format,” McCain said. “Real news isn’t always spoken clearly into a microphone. Sometimes, it’s shouted from across a room, or spoken through a broken mic or between shuddering, emotional breaths. That’s where the medium gets powerful, where written words can’t always take you.”
The show has steadily grown in popularity with time. While the pilot episode scored just four downloads in its first week, the show now averages around 50 regular weekly listeners.
“It’s been great to watch this thing grow with time,” McCain said. “It’s been sort of a passion project for me from the start, and to see it get off the ground has been really rewarding.”
Washington Weekly Review is available on Spotify, Amazon Music, and most podcast-specific platforms. It can also be listened to in-browser at SoutheastIowaUnion.com
Washington Live proves an overnight hit
The Union’s new video product, Washington Live, launched in late June to wave of positive reception. The pilot episode reached close to 1,000 views by the time the next episode aired days later.
“I was leaving for the day, and we were shooting for 600,” Video Producer Nick Steffens said “I logged in, because I was too anxious to look at it throughout the day, and we were already at 600. So that was a good feeling to go home with.”
With the initial nerves out of the way, Steffens said the show had already improved.
“I think it comes through when you’re watching,” he said. “The laughs seem more genuine, we’re all having a good time, I think we’ve finally hit a groove.”
The show is lighter and more talk showy than the Union’s typical news content, bringing in a different guest every week to discuss local events and the more humorous highlights of recent police reports.
“Personally, it’s a great way for me to spend my time and energy, it’s a good focus,” Host Jaron Rosien said. “I think it’s an awesome vehicle to get information out to people and talk about pop culture and local events and have local people talk about what’s important to them.”
The rotating cast makes for a different feel to each episode. Rosien said that was a key point of appeal.
“I want to keep the guests most in mind,” he said. “It’s hard to talk to a camera, I feed off of energy from other humans … it morphs based on the guest and who the guest is and what their dynamic is like.”
The Union also launched News Break, a daily video broadcast at 3 p.m. that gives viewers an annotated look at the next day’s paper after reporters’ deadlines, but before pages come off the press.
The show gives viewers a chance to take a midday breather to catch up on the news, delivered in a more straightforward way than the flagship morning show.
“We talk about dumb things sometimes, we talked about sasquatch and mysterious dolls, sometimes it’s relevant to the community, sometimes it’s not … that’s why we have News Break every day,” said Steffens, who hosts the daily program. “That way we can have news put there, and the morning show can stay lighthearted.”
New papers join to the Union
In May, SEIU acquired the Clarion-Plainsman, a weekly publication in the Richland area. The paper was formerly comprised mostly of news releases and submitted photos from readers, usually printed in black and white.
As of May, it now includes a selection reported stories in the area pulled from the Southeast Iowa Union’s coverage that week, including a color front page.
Melissa Robison, CP’s content editor and former sole employee, said she was happy with the new product.
“It definitely looks better, and it’s just nice to have more area coverage that I didn’t have before,” she said. “What’s happening in Fairfield and Washington, as opposed to just what people supply me, it has more current news in it. I’ve had people come in to renew their subscription and comment that they like the new look.”
In late July, the Union announced the purchase of a handful of other papers further northwest — in Marengo, Williamsburg, Belle Plaine and Grinnell — from Gannett.
“We looked into it and saw they were good communities, and we thought we could do some things with the paper,” Southeast Iowa Union Publisher and Manager Matt Bryant said. “We thought there was a good base there and some opportunity for growth.”
Bryant said the move would help prevent news deserts, counties where public notices can’t be published because they lack a newspaper.
“If legals can’t happen because there’s no newspaper, that’s kind of bad for everybody,” he said. “So in addition to thinking they’re good, strong papers that are absolutely worth taking on, we’re also doing it to try not to create a news desert in some of these areas … we think it helps the whole state to not have news desserts somewhere, and we want to do our part in that.”
The four papers currently share one reporter, Melinda Wichmann. Bryant said he hoped to expand the area’s news team with time.
“Our first priority is to get an ad rep hired who can start helping us with revenue,” he said. “Once we start generating some revenue, we can start looking at another reporter or a sports reporter to try to boost up the content … I think there’s some things we could do that would enhance them and make them a better, bigger part of the communities.”