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Dunn's <i>Daily Record</i> is Number One US Newspaper - 2001-08-25

Electronic media are said to be the future of journalism, but do not tell that to the people of Dunn, North Carolina. Their daily newspaper reaches a greater percentage of households than any other paper in the United States. Its secret: stay local and forget the big news.

In Washington, the defense secretary huddles with his military chiefs to map out a new strategy. In Macedonia, the warring parties agree to a peace plan that will hopefully end the fighting. In Tehran, the Iranian president vows to continue reform despite clerical opposition.

That was the big news in major American newspapers, but not in The Daily Record in Dunn, North Carolina. Its lead story concerned a black bear struck by a motorist, the latest in a series of animal deaths on the road.

Do not feed the bears, cautioned the paper, noting their habit of wandering into town. And remember taking away bear parts like claws or teeth is illegal.

Assuming that people get enough national and international news on television, The Daily Record concentrates on Dunn, which appears to be a winning formula.

According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, the Record is the number one newspaper in market penetration in the United States - meaning it has the highest percentage of households in the community reading the paper.

But it is not the only successful one, says the Journal. Others are using much the same formula to build circulation, despite the general decline in newspapers.

Eighty-one-year-old Hoover Adams founded the Record in 1950 and soon discovered the secret of success. "Our concept is to cover the local news and to get as many local names and local photographs as possible," he explains. "In this day and time, in a small town, everybody knows everybody, and they like to read about everybody. I frequently say this is the only newspaper in the world that would print a picture of a local merchant for a local achievement. He cannot get that anywhere else."

In his column called "These little things," Mr. Adams recently wrote about the dean of a local school of pharmacy who has begun a new term with a full enrollment of 93 students. He added that the dean's son would soon be married and to, "Watch the Daily Record social page for details."

Hoover Adams has handed over management of the paper to his son Bart, who shares his father's view of news coverage. "We cannot cover Raleigh [the North Carolina state capital] like the Raleigh paper can," he says. "We cannot cover New York or Washington. The only thing we can do better than anybody else in the world is cover Dunn, and that is what we do.

Bart Adams has concentrated on raising circulation by speeding up delivery, partly by using youngsters on bikes who often stop to chat with subscribers. Managing Editor Lisa Farmer says there is something special about Dunn. It is a down to earth, working man and woman's town of 14,000 with little claim to charm, but with a vibrant spirit that is reflected in its newspaper.

This is not some anonymous suburb, says Lisa Farmer, but a self-contained community that knows itself and what it wants.

"They do not hesitate at all to call us and tell us if there is some certain piece of information they want or just drop by with something special they want us to take a picture of or e-mail us about something they would like to see in the paper," says Ms. Farmer. "Whenever possible we try to accommodate them."

As an example, Lisa Farmer cites a recent story giving the complete calendars of all school systems in the community, along with the names of new teachers - the first, no doubt, of many mentions.