In the “snowbird” state of Florida, a growing demographic of older Americans who like to read their news in print is defying doomsayers’ forecasts of the end of the newspaper industry.
And even as each newspaper-reading generation is inevitably wheeled off to one of the multitude of funeral homes, a new one is taking their place.
In the age-restricted communities of The Villages, just north of Orlando, demand for printed news is so great that the local daily newspaper has commissioned a brand-new, German-made printing press.
Nor is it a modest single-width affair, but an impressive triple-wide giant, based on the same technology evolved to produce the mass circulations of decades past.
Welcome to The Villages Daily Sun, a regular bright spot for pensioners passing time in the country’s most comfortable climate, not passively but with a variety of sports and activities encouraged by the multiplatform media’s print and digital content. Stories regularly feature happy, healthy-looking residents in a variety of activities, and the local paper gets involved.
Taking its place in the daily life of The Villages, the Sun is a multi-section broadsheet with the US’ now-typical narrow page width, which equates to an almost-square tabloid.
Production is anchored by a new three-tower Koenig & Bauer Commander CT 6/2 (triple-wide) press capable of handling webs of up to 1829 mm wide, and with a 1067 mm cylinder circumference, the length of two page depths. A high level of press automation, three automatic reelstands and a KF 5 jaw folder support speeds of up to 90,000 cph, with systems including roller locks, cylinder wash-ups, auto register and plate changing. The mailroom side includes disc-based Ferag buffering and inserting systems, and a UTR conveyor system.
When orders were placed in 2019, publisher Phil Markward talked of a printed newspaper which was "part of our community philosophy", and the high expectations for it. "Quality journalism must therefore also be presented well," he said.
With about 300 new houses being built a month at the time, there was every reason to expect growth from its 60,000-plus circulation to continue, given its 20 years of consecutive growth.
While newspaper circulation has been falling in the US – 43 per cent since 2003 according to a report by the Alliance for Audited Media – The Villages Daily Sun had grown 169 per cent to a quoted 55,700. Wikipedia also credits it with the dubious distinction of being the last family-owned daily newspaper in Florida, following Adams Publishing’s acquisition of the Key West Citizen three years ago.
Now post-COVID, the new pressroom is even more symbolic in the confidence owners of The Villages have in the future, a long way from its 1960s origins as a trailer park. Above all there’s a sense of pride in the new acquisition, almost of the Commander press being the central display in an immaculate exhibition.
And that’s perhaps the secret of the community’s success: History tells of the vision of Michigan businessman Harold Schwartz, who – with his son H. Gary Morse, from 1983 – saw the future of retirement community development lay in the provision of well-maintained amenities. Their descendants still control major aspects of The Villages, and it’s their company which has placed its faith in print with this latest investment in the Daily Sun – subscription US$84-a-year – as an asset to be savoured as part of the quality of life.