In an effort to make the best use of limited resources while placing a focus on producing high-quality enterprise journalism, four of Lee’s weekly publications in south-central Wisconsin have banded together and pooled their resources to produce regional, in-depth reporting on a weekly basis that is shared by all four publications.

The Cover Story Project has allowed our small weekly products – each with a reporting staff of one – to broaden their perspective and bring a regional aspect to important stories. Reporters have covered topics as significant and diverse as law enforcement's use of civil asset forfeiture, the disappearance of driver’s education in schools, the prevalence of identity theft and ways to safeguard data, millennials stepping into leadership roles and the economic impact of tourism on the region. Cover stories also have delved into human-interest stories about the region’s lengthy history of brewing and the craft’s recent resurgence, rural churches pooling their resources to survive and the region's supernatural lore.

The Cover Story Project involves reporters at the Juneau County Star-Times, Wisconsin Dells Events, Reedsburg Times-Press and Sauk Prairie Eagle. Each reporter at these publications produces at least one long-form enterprise piece each month on a regional topic that affects all of the communities served by the newspapers. With four reporters between the publications, a rotation has been established that allows our team to plan, produce and publish an enterprise story on the cover of every edition. Sources for these articles are expected to come from each of the communities in which the newspapers are located and each reporter provides local art every week for that publication’s cover story.

Editors host a weekly chat in Google Hangouts with the reporters to plan topics, discuss potential sources and local photo opportunities. Every other month, the staffs get together as a group for a topic brainstorming session.

Reporters have welcomed the opportunity to write in-depth pieces that go beyond what is possible at many small weekly publications. They also know their art will be displayed in an impactful manner as part of Lee’s new weekly “cover story” design format, which plays up the visual elements on the front page. With assistance from the Design Centers, the additional advance planning required as part of the Cover Story Project allows us to develop useful infographics, a relatively new opportunity for these publications that we have utilized on a regular basis.

The Cover Story Project has allowed our staffs the time and resources to do things they may have never considered before. The additional planning and preparation also have allowed our team to work together better as a group, opened up new lines of communication and helped reporters who otherwise would be spread out across four communities to collaborate on important work that impacts all of readers.

Eight examples of stories produced in the past year as part of this project can be found below.

  • 5 min to read

Like businesses and schools, churches face their own unique challenges in the region's small, rural communities.

  • 7 min to read

Reductions in public school budgets have changed the way some students earn their driver’s licenses.