Publisher Mike Bennett of Dowagiac addresses Rotary Club Jan. 12

Publisher aims to tell communities’ stories

Published 9:13pm Thursday, January 12, 2012

As other publications shed staff, Leader Publications expanded its newsroom in October with page designer Kim Wynn “to make the papers look more attractive, more colorful and add graphics,” Publisher Michael Bennett told Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday.
“We’re also planning content to make sure it reflects the communities we cover,” Bennett, who became publisher Aug. 29,  said at Elks Lodge 889.
“In my mind, when you read a daily newspaper, you should have a good feel for what it’s like to live in that community. We have to be advocates for our community, as well. And when there are stories to be told that may not make government officials happy, it’s our responsibility to do that, too.”

More local content
In evaluating content with the goal of “doing what we’ve been doing, but get even more local content,” Bennett wants to enhance play-by-play sports coverage with more “stories behind the game. There are people doing wonderful things that go unreported because we don’t know about it. Really interesting stories are not necessarily tied to government. Work with us to build a better newspaper.”
Contests are another new element, such as the photographic review of 2011 with 253 pictures entered online and more than 1,000 votes cast for a favorite.
A dozen love stories have been submitted for Valentine’s Day.

Footsteps to follow
Bennett, of Dowagiac, literally followed his dad into the newspaper business, tagging along as he sold advertising. He covered sports for his high school newspaper, earned a journalism degree from West Virginia University and entered the market “around the time of Watergate” when “there were no jobs at all.”
He landed his first job, selling advertising, in 1974.
“I was shy, but it turned out to be something I enjoy,” he said. “It requires the same skills as a reporter — asking questions and listening — to try to come up with ideas to help a business in a creative way. Being a publisher is really a privilege because you can do good things in a community.”
Or communities with Leader Publications, which also publishes the Niles Daily Star, weeklies Cassopolis Vigilant and Edwardsburg Argus, Off the Water (distributed in Friday’s Daily News or for free in racks), The Leader shoppers guide and associated websites, which will be consolidated into one regional site.
Bennett was born and raised near Philadelphia and came from Asheville, N.C., where he had been CEO of Iwanna Inc., a classifieds publication.
He also spent 14 years at Swift Communications in Colorado.
“The challenge of being a publisher here is the wide area of communities and trying to get involved with each individually,” said Bennett.
“We get almost a half-million page views a month by 35,000 visitors,” Bennett said, “but there are still people who like holding a newspaper and having it organized in a way that makes it easy to find information.”

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