Years ago I had an editor who drank a lot, but was otherwise a capable newswoman and almost evangelistic about our craft.
Returning from a vacation, I remarked that the city I had visited had such a lame newspaper, it wasn't even worth a quarter.
You would think I had spilled her tequila. "Every newspaper is worth a quarter, and so much more,'' she insisted.
I thought of her when I read what could be the last printed newsletter in my Carrollwood neighborhood. Unable to support itself consistently with advertising, the paper will likely be replaced by an online report.
Snob that I am, I did not always appreciate our newsletter. The information was sometimes outdated, owing to early deadlines and a bulk-mail delivery system. Short on community content, it ran pages of generic material that I called "filler copy.''
That's what happens when you don't appreciate something.
Like the deli that had slow service and is now boarded up, and the dry cleaner that lost your button and now shows a "for lease'' sign in its window — things we took for granted are now precious somehow, their absence signaling a frightening economic free fall.
I called the newsletter service, IKare Publishing of Wesley Chapel, to see whether, like my own industry, community newsletters are suffering from the competition of free Internet advertising.
"I've been doing this for 30 years, and I expect I'll be doing it for another 30,'' said IKare founder Karen Uhlig.
Take away the bloodshot eyes and she almost reminded me of that long-ago editor.
At 60, Uhlig is passionate about publishing and says what happened in my neighborhood was an isolated case.
She still publishes for more than 30 communities in New Tampa, Odessa, Brandon, Tampa's Westshore and parts of Pasco County. Some papers, like mine, are supported by ads. In other cases, homeowner associations pay IKare for a straight report.
"The economy has definitely had an effect on advertising,'' Uhlig said. "I am blessed in that most of my advertisers have been with me for many years, and they know these are the times when you need to stay. The majority have.''
The challenge she now faces is to get new advertisers — and convince them that once is not enough. You need to keep your ad in at least three months, she tells them, so that when Joe Homeowner needs a plumber he'll scratch his head and remember that Page 6 ad — and look for it in next month's edition.
Uhlig insists that printed products will survive, and even thrive. Web hits on her online newsletters are down, she says, suggesting people have had their fill of Internet news.
"When they come home, they want to sit in that recliner, put their feet up, drink a soda and read a hard copy of something,'' she said. "People are tired of using the computer so much.''
A onetime kindergarten teacher who was forever catching illnesses from her students, Uhlig got involved in newsletters when a neighbor in Town 'N Country's Twelve Oaks was pregnant and asked for help.
One thing led to another, and Uhlig says she prayed to God. Give me five newsletters, she pleaded, and you know what? Communities called her for five straight days.
Her daughter, similarly, had planned to be a teacher. Today Kimberly Uhlig-Quigley works alongside her mother, using her graphic design and computer training to modernize IKare. "This is a legacy that I hope to pass on to her,'' Uhlig said.
Grandchildren are also getting involved. Uhlig's 10-year-old grandson published a newsletter for his class at school, she said.
While everybody is hurting, you can place a business card ad in your neighborhood newsletter for as little as $50.
No, you might not make your money back. But trust me, like that deli with the slow service, you will miss your newsletter if it goes away.
"A newsletter keeps the community together,'' Uhlig said. "It tells people what's going on in their neighborhood, what the issues are, it keeps them abreast of how their money is being spent. It's a place where neighborhoods can brag about their schools. It's invaluable.''
I can relate.
Marlene Sokol covers issues about suburban life. She can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 269-5307.