Tucker County Observer

The Tucker County Observer is a new free monthly newspaper covering Tucker County, a remote rural county high in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. While the wild and wonderful natural attractions draw more than a million visitors each year, the same environment presents persistent problems. Not far from the million dollar vacation homes near downhill ski areas, one in six county residents live in poverty. As many as half don’t have internet access, either due to the mountainous terrain or cost or both. Good jobs are scarce, and the county’s working age population is slowly moving out, leaving behind an aging population vulnerable to isolation and often unable to access key services.

The Observer project takes a different approach to achieve its twin goals of creating a reliable news source and promoting local businesses for locals and visitors. First, it’s print only, with 10,000 copies circulating around the county each month. No website is planned, in part because of the reasons above, but also because there are already too many websites. The lack of a good print publication means almost every business has a website, but those websites get very little traffic because no one knows about the business in the first place. Second, the Observer is supported entirely by local advertising. It returns the favor by providing a quality publication that highlights different things around the county to increase the “churn” and footfall at area businesses. This is important, because while the state does a good job of getting tourists here, very little is done to get them moving around the county once they arrive. As a result, the majority of visitors rarely visit some parts of the county, even though they have a lot to offer. Third, it’s going to be a non-profit, with all of the proceeds redirected to county charities, such as the local food bank. The result is a self-contained and sustainable system that helps local businesses do better, pumps much-needed money back into the county, and helps build community through a back-to-basics, old fashioned community newspaper.

Founder Thomas Yocum is an award-winning journalist, author and communications specialist. Over the past 30 years, he has written for a long list of publications and news organizations, including Reuters and the Guardian. In 1999, he founded the Ocracoke Observer newspaper on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which continues to thrive. His international experience includes working with Amnesty International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and four years as head of communications for USAID in Dakar, Senegal.

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