Debra Paul just wanted to know what was going on.
The young mother and new-to-Londonderry resident took her 5-year-old daughter to cheerleading practice and fell into conversation with another young mom. “I told her I had just bought Sam a bicycle, and she said, ‘Oh, you should have gone to the annual Toy Swap,’” Paul recalled. “I had no idea there was an annual Toy Swap.”
She went home and reported the conversation to her husband, Chris, who has an extensive graphic design and advertising background, and at the time was working at the largest advertising agency in Boston. They questioned how difficult it could be to produce a town newsletter.
Fifteen years and three newspapers later, Nutfield Publishing is celebrating its 15th year in 2015. Deb Paul, publisher of the Londonderry Times, Nutfield News and Tri-Town Times, has built a business that reaches five communities 52 weeks a year with the news that impacts their towns. She took a few minutes this month to reflect on the journey.
The Pauls, who moved to Londonderry from Revere, Mass., didn’t know how small New Hampshire towns worked. “I had no idea about Town Meeting, how the government worked, anything,” Deb Paul said. Hungry to be informed and help others, she started a newsletter from her home.
“The first Londonderry Times came out in January 2000,” she said. It was a monthly and the content was different than today, with more columns and less news, Paul recalled. But her tradition of mailing the paper to every home began in Londonderry, a practice that has continued for 15 years with two additional newspapers.
“We spend around $500,000 a year now to print and mail the papers,” Paul added.
Advertisers supported the fledgling paper and Paul went to twice-a-month publication. She hired “stringers” to attend meetings and persuaded a friend to be proofreader. “It was literally a mom-and-pop effort out of my basement,” she recalled.
When asked to go weekly, she complied. After two years of a weekly Londonderry Times, some Derry residents asked her for their own paper, “so we went into Derry (with the Nutfield News),” she said. “And one year after that, we started Tri-Town.” The Tri-Town Times covers Chester, Hampstead, and Sandown.
Now the company has 15 employees, including a full-time editor who joined the staff in November 2006, and five full-time reporters, a webmaster, three staff in advertising, two bookkeepers, and a delivery driver.
The company moved out of the basement of the Paul home in 2004 and rented space in an office complex on Harvey Road near the airport. Nutfield Publishing is now housed in a colonial home they purchased at 2 Litchfield Road in Londonderry, which was “officially” converted to a commercial property from residential in 2011.
Deb Paul has no background in journalism, but said, “I do what I feel as a resident I would like to see in a newspaper. I want to be able to stay in my home, keep taxes down, help nonprofits.”
Throughout the change from a small newsletter to three free weekly newspapers, Chris Paul has continued to play a major role in the operation, devoting his weekends to their production early on. He quit his Boston job when the Londonderry Times went weekly and traded in his commute for a daily role in the newspaper operation.
His title now is Art Director, and he’s a familiar figure around the newspapers’ five towns, taking photos at events.
The Pauls’ older daughter Samantha is the graphic artist for the company and their son, Jonathan, is the bookkeeper. Their youngest, Jessica, now 13, “wants to be me,” Paul said with a smile. “She comes in here and says, ‘Mom, I could do your job.’”
It’s a passion for Paul, who soon realized how her work would affect people’s lives. “One of our teachers’ daughters needed a bone marrow transplant,” she recalled. “We did an article. Someone took our paper to work, another person picked it up, and he was a match!”
She’s also taken town governments to task on various issues, noting, “I feel I have to fight. If people see me fight, then they’ll fight.”
To that end, she’s a supporter of her papers’ Letters pages. “I’ve had people say to me, ‘Why don’t you get rid of the letters?’” But Paul has resisted, saying, “That’s like taking away someone’s voice box.”
The team has grown and persevered through many struggles, including several extended power outages. But they produced the newspapers anyway, once moving the operation to Editor Leslie O’Donnell’s home because she had electricity, once to the Pauls’ dining room and once to the Leach Library.
“We got out on time,” Paul said.
The papers also survived her diagnosis with cancer in 2012. “I was ready to close – it was a challenge,” Paul said quietly. But she was back at her desk days after her surgery, and she and the papers went on.
Paul has a particular interest in small businesses and said her papers reinforce the word-of-mouth publicity they need. She is in the process of forming a nonprofit, Granite Local, to help them do just that. “It’s a way to educate them, to help small businesses get more visibility in town,” she said.
Paul herself is active around Londonderry and Derry. She’s on the board of the Greater Londonderry YMCA; on the board of the Greater Derry Londonderry Chamber of Commerce; a member of the Londonderry Women’s Club; events coordinator for the Londonderry Historical Society; a member of the Downtown Derry Committee and the Derryfest Committee; and an appointee to the Londonderry Master Plan Implementation Committee, to name a few.
“That’s it for now,” she said, adding, “I’ve had to cut back.”
In the future, Paul wouldn’t mind adding more newspapers to cover a few more towns. And there is a future for newspapers, she said.
While young people aren’t necessarily following the town, school, and state issues, they read the paper and know when they or one of their peers has been captured by Chris Paul’s camera.
“When they own a house they’ll be interested in taxes,” she said. “When they have a child, they’ll be interested in the School Board.”
And she hopes to be the one providing the information. “Small, local newspapers,” she said, “will never go away. People will always want to know what goes on in their backyard, and if change happens in enough backyards, then the world will be affected.”