Publisher wants to revive service clubsPublished 7:00pm Thursday, January 31, 2013
A year and a half with Leader Publications, publishing the Dowagiac Daily News, Niles Daily Star, Cassopolis Vigilant, Edwardsburg Argus, Off the Water and the Leader shopper, taught Michael Bennett “it’s a much bigger position than I anticipated, and much more challenging.”
Bennett thrives on community involvement, but there’s not enough of him to go around with four towns.
He lived in Dowagiac his first year and recently moved to Niles Charter Township after late-night press issues he chronicled in his weekly column.
Undeterred, the Niles-Buchanan Rotarian has honed in on “resurrecting Rotary” and other service clubs to a new generation disinterested or unaware of their community role.
Bennett recently spoke to Dowagiac Lions Club. Thursday he returned to Dowagiac Rotary, where he broached the Niles and Dowagiac clubs collaborating on projects and offered his marketing assistance.
Bennett, who became publisher in August 2011, said despite not being able to be everywhere personally, the Leader organization can help when he’s aware of needs.
Last April Bennett converted the newspapers to a tabloid format which rewards concise stories. After a period of adjustment, “It’s been received very well,” he said. “We’re also encouraging local contributions,” whether it’s Dowagiac Union Schools’ Starfish Stories or Southwestern Michigan College President Dr. David Mathews’ column.
“I didn’t know what I was up against” trying to recruit civic-minded volunteers to help his Rotary rescue Niles’ Hunter Ice Festival, Bennett said. “Rotary, as a service organization, gives back to the community. (Wednesday) night we sponsored After Hours with the Chamber to get new blood into the organization. It’s amazing how many people don’t know what Rotary does. Our club focuses on youth,” recently establishing an Interact club at Brandywine High School much like one at Union High founded last year and added 40 members this year.
Dowagiac Rotary is responsible for Rotary Villa housing. Eventually, once the Housing and Urban Development project debt is retired, ownership reverts to the club.
The club awards a scholarship annually to a DUHS graduate.
Ron Gunn and his crew just put $528 into the coffers from the Snowed Out Shootout basketball tournament. Rotary also sponsors a cross country meet.
Internationally, members contribute to the near-eradication of polio, water filtration and supported medical missions.
Bennett encouraged Rotary to explore a Facebook fan page, “which are so much easier to use than web sites, and you can talk to the community. I’m speaking to the choir here, but younger folks don’t understand the value of local news and what a community would be like without it. Stuff you find online isn’t necessarily true. A lot of people won’t miss it until it’s gone. The Dowagiac Daily News can’t exist as a stand-alone newspaper. There’s not enough advertising, so we try to come up with other ways to fund content. Social media has become so big in how people shop with their smartphones. A Mexican restaurant says like our guacamole and the drinks are free, and their 500 friends see it on Facebook.”
Bennett grew up near Philadelphia, earned his journalism degree from West Virginia and came to southwest Michigan after two years as CEO for Iwanna Inc., a classifieds publication in Asheville, N.C.
He has worked as advertising director and publisher for several publications, including 14 years at Swift Communications in Colorado, in a newspaper career spanning 38 years.
Iwanna “was my first time away from the pure newspaper business. I really did miss community journalism. As a newspaper, we really have to play a role in understanding the needs of the community and helping it reach its goals,” he said.
Retired school superintendent Larry Crandall said, “Whoever thought the Kalamazoo Gazette would not print seven days a week? But it doesn’t. The younger generation gets everything online in quick blips. They don’t want to spend a lot of time reading in-depth. I don’t envy your position, but I’m still amazed and appreciative Dowagiac maintains a daily newspaper. Yes, it has changed. Sure, I wish it could be like it always was. Who doesn’t? But the reality is it can’t. I’m grateful we’re able to maintain it even in its changed format.”
Referring to Bennett’s column Thursday on rediscovering sledding at 60, Bob Cochrane, Cass County Council on Aging executive director, offered to loan him a Flexible Flyer.