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Rural Success Stories
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Weatherman turned newspaperman is true rural entrepreneur
Jason & Amy Fredericks
This is a story about flexibility and optimism and plain, old-fashioned gumption.
Meet award-winning journalist and entrepreneur, Jason Frederick, who started out his working life as a weatherman but — isn’t life great? — now publishes and manages three weekly newspapers with his wife in the rural Nebraska that he loves.
But that’s not all.
In addition to the newspapers, Frederick’s office in Trenton is also a florist shop, and the company manages a outlet for Viero Wireless in Benkelman and Hayes Center.
Working in a florist shop has its advantages. The door of the Trenton newspaper office opens up to colorful, fresh flower arrangements and a fresh smell.
“A flower shop is something Trenton didn’t have,” Frederick explains. “We are an outlet for a florist company in Benkeleman, and we started it as a community service. The store brings people into our office, and the business does super-well and is profitable.”
At the core of this odd business empire, the Fredericks report and publish the news in Hitchcock, Hayes and Dundy counties in the pages of the Hitchcock County News, Hayes Center Times-Republican and the Benkelman Post. Their circulation of 3,000 reaches nearly every residence in both counties.
A small town romance
Amy and Jason grew up in Benkelman and Trenton respectively, towns about 30 miles apart on Highway 6&34 in southwest Nebraska. When they decided to get married, Amy was enrolled in cosmetology classes at Joseph's in Lincoln while Jason was studying meteorology at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
Jason planned to follow his older brother who had graduated from the University of Hawaii as a meteorologist and whose career with the National Weather Service in Tulsa, Oklahoma was flourishing. Jason hoped the same for himself, but: “When I graduated, hiring stopped,” said Jason. “I ended up staying in school a few more years to get a journalism degree.”
In August of 1997, the family moved to Mason City, Iowa where Jason got a job reporting weekend weather and news for KIMT television. But, expecting their first child, they started looking for a job that would put them closer to their families in southwest Nebraska.
"Working our way back "
KOGA radio station in Ogallala hired Jason as their news director, while Amy worked for the Keith County News until their daughter was born.
After a few years, Amy was offered a job as an insurance agent in McCook while Jason became the news director at Coyote County Radio in the same town.
“We were working our way back,” Jason says.
Amy had heard that National Public Radio was advertising for a part-time reporter to be located in rural Nebraska. The job was home-based and paid well.
“In addition to the NPR job, I contracted a part-time weather reporting job with a McCook radio station, and I sent stories to Voice of America and National Public Radio, as well,” said Jason. “I traveled from Grand Island west to the panhandle and often drove northwest to report on the issues and stories in Scottsbluff, Chadron and Valentine.”
Story topics included cattle ranching, recreation and water issues on the Niobrara River, the sugar beet industry in Scottsbluff, pumping the aquifer at Pumpkin Creek, liquor laws at White Clay, and other issues of concern in rural Nebraska.
“The Voice of America stories were translated into 26 different languages,” said Frederick. “The work was creative and challenging.”
The family set up an office in the basement and put together a recording studio. In 2003, however, news trickled down from Lincoln that the budget for Nebraska Public Radio may be cut.
“I was out here by myself and I really feared that my job may be canceled.”
Out of radio, into newspapers
But things have a way of working out. In April of the same year, the owner of the Hitchcock County News and the Hayes Center Times died. Amy made the initial contact with the heirs of the papers and started the process to try and find funding to purchase the businesses.
"They were asking $225,000, and we had no collateral,” said Jason referring to the fact that local bankers needed to secure the loan, but they were unwilling to bank on a writer’s talent.
Another of Jason’s brothers, who lived in Boston, offered to finance two-thirds of the asking price and the former owners financed the rest.
Amy and Jason are equal partners in the newspaper venture. Jason handles the news and the writing, and Amy manages the business. Reporting the news in five rural towns is a daunting task. The business currently has one fulltime writer, and two part-time writers. Frederick insists the staff attend all public meetings — which in five towns is quite a few — and report on school sports in addition to tracking down stories of local interest.
Family members help out on publishing, sorting and mailing days, and Jason’s high school English teacher comes in on Tuesdays to proofread.
The Fredericks serve their readers and their communities with care and with content that makes a difference in their lives.
In 2006, Amy and Jason won The Payne Award, a national award for ethics in journalism from the University of Oregon. Jason was quoted in a University of Nebraska Journalism Department magazine at the time as saying, “Maybe I’m naïve, but it goes back to what I learned at the university. I learned journalists have to be responsible, have integrity, build their credibility. One way to do that is not to ‘sell’ our news — and be fair and balanced and accurate. That’s the backbone of journalism.”
The Fredericks newspapers won the Omaha World Herald Community Service Award in the same year. Jason said, “Our subscribers understand that we report on what is important to them.”
Jason and Amy are the first to admit the news business in rural America is challenging for any number of reasons. But they stitched together a life to be close to family and to do what the Frederick's clearly good at and love to do.
And that’s a successful entrepreneur by anyone’s measure.