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Carthage Mornin' Mail carves out community niche

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by Christen Jackson

SBJ Contributing Writer

Each morning Carthage residents pick up an unusual newspaper at local coffee shops and businesses, which provides updates on the latest happenings in town.

Founded six years ago by H.J. Johnson, the Mornin' Mail is a free publication which looks more like a newsletter than a newspaper. Published Monday through Friday, it ranges from two to four pages and is printed on 8 1/2-by-11 paper.

"I didn't have any axes to grind when I started the Mornin' Mail, I just decided to do it, and it caught on," said Johnson, who previously published the Midwest Journal, a free magazine covering antiques in the four-state area.

One thousand copies of the Mornin' Mail are distributed daily to 120 locations such as retail shops, industries, restaurants, the Carthage Chamber of Commerce and the Jasper County Courthouse. In addition, approximately 100 are faxed by those who have requested that service.

Those who don't have the chance to pick up a copy can look up the Mornin' Mail's web site at www.morninmail.com.

"If you just look at our circulation numbers, you wouldn't understand the impact we have," Johnson said. "I believe a lot more than 1,000 people read us every day. I expect two or three people often read a single copy of the paper, and there's no telling how many people log on to our Web site."

Johnson has chosen to dedicate the newspaper strictly to news of Carthage, with an emphasis on city government.

"We have a good sense of what is going on in this town, because we focus on this town," he said. "We do have an impact on the community."

Regular features include the "Did Ya' Know" column, which gives brief updates on scheduled events in Carthage; a column which recounts events taking place in Carthage on a particular date 100 years ago; and "Just Jake Talkin'," a daily commentary on issues with an impact on Carthage.

Stories which are the backbone of most small town newspapers are not found in the Mornin' Mail. Because of space limitations, there is no sports coverage, coverage of Carthage schools is limited, and photographs are rare.

"We don't cover everything that we would like to, because we can't do everything justice," Johnson said. "But we have a sophisticated audience who really care about what's happening in Carthage."

However, Johnson said there are no plans to add space by adding pages to the newspaper.

In fact, a couple of years ago Johnson did bump the Mornin' Mail up to eight pages, but each additional page meant added work for his already overworked staff. Johnson operates the newspaper with his wife, daughter and one stringer who contributes several stories a week.

"I wasn't convinced that we were doing a better job with more pages, and I know it was a lot more work," he said.

Carthage businesses have shown strong support of the Mornin' Mail and the newspaper has a strong, diverse advertising base, Johnson said.

"It's very reasonable to advertise in this paper," he said. "Our readers respond to the ads, and that's what our advertisers want."

Most advertisers spend approximately $100 a month, Johnson said, and the Mornin' Mail's ad rates have not increased in the publication's six years of operation.

"I believe in repetition and consistency, and advertisers can afford to do that in the Mornin' Mail," Johnson said.

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