After almost 50 years of reporting, writing and distributing stories, an Albion couple sent something unusual off to print: a for-sale ad for their newspaper business.
Jim and Julie Dickerson own three weekly papers in Boone County: the Albion News, the Petersburg Press — both of which they have owned for 13 years — and The St. Edward Advance, which they have owned since 2018. They are looking to sell all three.
Jim Dickerson, 67, writes, reports and takes photographs of meetings and community events, and Julie Dickerson, 68, works with accounting and advertising. Once the stories have been completed, the papers are printed at White Wolf Publishing in Sheldon, Iowa, before being sold for $1 or 75 cents, depending on the paper.
The Albion News reaches 1,969 readers, the Petersburg Press has 357 and The St. Edward Advance hits 400. Jim and Julie Dickerson said they have been considering selling the papers for about five years so they can retire.
Jim Dickerson’s journalism career traces its roots back to the late 1960s at his high school newspaper in Moab, Utah. The first paper he owned was The Elgin Review, just 22 miles from Albion, which the Dickersons owned for 29 years before selling it to purchase the Albion News.
“Everybody in Elgin thought we were retiring, but we both had decided that we were too young. We had an offer, and we wanted to help the people out,” Julie Dickerson said.
But after 13 more years of newspaper ownership in a town of 1,592 residents, Jim and Julie decided to sell the Albion News and retire. They aren’t in a rush to quit, however, as Jim Dickerson said they are committed to helping the new owner learn the ropes.
Julie Dickerson said they just need to sell the business before she needs a stairlift to ascend the 23 stairs leading to the three-bedroom apartment above the office. The more than 100-year-old building, which houses the Albion office and the Dickerson’s apartment, is for sale as well. They aren’t listing prices, but rather looking to negotiate with an interested party.
Julie Dickerson said they would like to hand the business to younger owners who are willing to put in the effort to run the newspaper.
“We’d like to see it in the next year being in good solid hands,” Jim Dickerson said. “We would actually stay if somebody wanted us to help get them started. It wouldn’t be like we just abandon ship right away.”
The newspaper is still a viable business, Jim Dickerson said, even though some might think otherwise.
“I think we’ve been sold down the river by some people who have influence who say newspapers are dead. I don’t think that’s true, especially for county seat weekly newspapers,” Jim Dickerson said. “There’s stuff we do that doesn’t get done if we’re not here — the court report, covering the county commissioners, the city council, the school board. None of that would be done.”
Jim Dickerson said Albion is one of the more fortunate small towns, as population decrease hasn’t affected it as much as some of the neighboring communities. But the newspaper is not being sold without its challenges. Social media is a free alternative to newspapers, and it’s hard to compete with free, Jim Dickerson said. In order to put up a fight, they try to make the newspaper seem like a community gathering place, but even that is tough.
“The younger generation … tends to use social media to announce whatever they wanted to. That’s a difficult hurdle for us,” Jim Dickerson said. “Our selling point, though, is that if you’re getting engaged, getting married or you have a baby, you want that somewhere permanent.”
According to the Pew Research Center, the estimated U.S. daily newspaper circulation for print and digital combined in 2018 was 28.6 million for weekday and 30.8 million for Sunday, down 8% and 9%, respectively, from the previous year. But despite a decline in circulation nationwide, the small town papers are alive and well, Jim Dickerson said.
Dennis DeRossett, executive director of the Nebraska Press Association, agreed with that idea. He said Jim and Julie Dickerson run a very credible paper, which its readers respect, and in turn, subscribe to.
“If you have someone who’s as connected, who comes in and becomes connected to the community and provides the same good editorial product and has some business savvy, there is a need for those newspapers, those types of newspapers, and local business will support those,” DeRossett said.
A couple showed interest in the paper a few years ago, Jim Dickerson said, but the deal fell through over a price dispute. But nonetheless, Jim Dickerson is confident that the newspaper is a solid purchase.
“We’re not a pig in the poke,” he said. “In other words, the business is solid.”
Correction: This story was updated to reflect that one or both of the Dickersons have been in the newspaper business for nearly 50 years. The original story incorrectly stated the number of years.