Unified Newspaper Group adds Fitchburg Star



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Unified Newspaper Group, the publisher of the Stoughton Courier Hub, Verona Press and Oregon Observer, has added a new print publication to its stable of community newspapers.

The Fitchburg Star is a new, independent newspaper covering Fitchburg and a companion to the existing ConnectFitchburg.com website. It will take the place of the city newsletter that preceded it, the Fitchburg Update, and it begins with a monthly publishing schedule.

In its initial year, it will be mailed free to every household and business in the city in a cooperative effort with the City of Fitchburg. City leaders, community groups, and former readers and advertisers have been pushing to regain an independent editorial voice in the community ever since the previous version of the Star ceased publication in September 2009.

Eventually, the Fitchburg Star will transition to a subscriber-based weekly model for long-term stability, but its contract with the city runs through 2014, comprising 10 monthly issues of the Fitchburg Star, each delivered to more than 12,600 businesses and residents. It will be published the second Friday of each month.

Other than this unusual setup and our initial monthly frequency, the Star will be similar to the Hub and our other community weekly newspapers, the Verona Press and Oregon Observer. It will feature coverage of city government, business, local sports, features and upcoming events, as well as highlights of our coverage of the Verona Area School District  and Oregon School District – both of which include parts of the city – with coverage of all Fitchburg schools.

The previous version of the Fitchburg Star had been published continuously in various forms since 1976, well before Fitchburg became a city in 1983. UNG continued to maintain its
ConnectFitchburg.com website, and the city increased publication of its UNG-produced Fitchburg Update newsletter from quarterly to every two months.

City leaders and community groups approached UNG several times since 2009 about publishing a newspaper in Fitchburg, but it was not feasible until UNG proposed the elimination of the Fitchburg Update, meaning the two products would not compete for ad revenue.

The agreement, which came out of meetings between UNG general manager David Enstad, Mayor Shawn Pfaff, Ald. Steve Arnold and city staff, will nearly double the postage costs to about $30,000 by making the publication monthly. Alders debated the proposal in November and included it in their 2014 budget.

The city and UNG have been finalizing details of their contractual arrangement in recent weeks.

Though the contract could be renewed for all or part of 2015, UNG plans to convert the Star into a subscriber-based weekly model like its other newspapers.

Details of the timing and manner of that transition have yet to be determined and will depend on interest from potential subscribers and advertisers. It’s not clear whether the paper would immediately switch to weekly publication.

UNG will produce the Star using the same newsgathering staff, including editor Jim Ferolie, but will increase coverage all around, including at local schools.

Unified Newspaper Group is part of Woodward Community Media, a division of Woodward Communications Inc., based in Dubuque, Iowa.

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