NEWS- Crozet-centric: Growth area gains <i>Gazette</i>

Crozet has seen newspapers come and go. The latest effort, the Crozet Gazette, debuted in western Albemarle mailboxes two weeks ago.

"For a long time I felt the western side of the county needed a paper," says editor Mike Marshall. "I felt with all the new faces and development, the community wanted something to establish its sense of place."

Marshall, a former member of the Albemarle County School Board, aims for the Gazette to be an old-fashioned community paper– only with slicker layout and graphics. "When you get on a local level," he says, "people like to see their neighbors' names."

And people in Crozet, one of the county's designated growth areas, like to know which developments are in the works. The community is projected to swell from around 3,500 to 24,000, according to the county, which has upped its original 12,000 population estimate.

So Marshall offers a healthy dose of growth news, including a cover story on the 12K versus 24K controversy, an article on the brick-clad U.S. Joiner building going up near the Great Valu, a summary of three new Weather Hill subdivisions, and a look at the water situation at Beaver Creek Reservoir.

But the 24-page Crozet Gazette is not only about development. It also spins the tale of an Evan Almighty extra, and more hometown news reporting on retiring teachers, the Crozet Farmers Market, and the top 10 books circulating from the Crozet Library.

"You'd be astonished how many things people think I need to write about," says Marshall, marveling at the number of news tips coming his way.

As a Crozet resident for 25 years, Marshall had a hand in starting the Whistle, the newsletter of the Crozet Community Association. And he's a former editor of Inside UVA.

Here's how heavily Marshall is betting on the Gazette: He quit his day job as UVA Law School communications director and intends to support himself with the new monthly newspaper, which he'd like to make bi-weekly in the near future. 

"Partly because the time is right," he says of his leap of faith. "If somebody is going to talk about Crozet, it should be someone who knows about it."

He promises the Gazette won't be all feel-good news. "There won't be a lot of negative stuff, but you have to do some if you want to be taken seriously," he says.

Nine thousand copies of the first issue of the Crozet Gazette were mailed in a radius around Crozet, and 3,000 were placed in stores, where they will be distributed in the future. "I haven't been to all the places, but they're pretty much gone," he says. 

Marshall wants to attract advertisers from over the Augusta County line. "A lot of Crozet people are facing west when it comes to shopping," he says. "I want to attract Waynesboro businesses."

Chris Graham, editor of the online Augusta Free Press, and his wife have gone through new publication start-up and its attendant lack of a steady income. 

"We did business plans with weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly papers, and monthly just didn't seem to make sense," Graham says. While a weekly can sell ads 52 times a year, a monthly only has 12 chances to generate revenue. 

"That said, the Crozet market, including Waynesboro, is going to be lucrative," says Graham. "[Marshall] could be ahead of his time. If he can make it through that first year..."

Jim Crosby published the Bulletin in Crozet from 1978 to 1994, and he calls his former weekly publication an unintentional "nonprofit" organization. 

He, too, cautions against a monthly publication schedule. "A newspaper has to be weekly, minimum,"  he advises. "Grocery stores can't run a price list on a monthly basis."

Crosby compliments the Gazette's appearance, and he suggests that Marshall started the paper for the same reasons he started the Bulletin. "The community needs it," says Crosby. "Many things are going on out here that don't get covered."

Crozet resident Jim Stork says local buzz on the Gazette  has been good. "A little community like Crozet used to be needs a little paper like that," he says. In particular, Stork liked the report on the cougar sighting in downtown Crozet.

He, too, laments the lack of Crozet coverage in other media. "The Progress, to me, I don't know if they're in a budget crunch, but a lot of things they don't cover at all or just do a little," says Stork.

In fact, newspapers across the country are struggling with reduced circulation, and a frequent topic of discussion is whether print newspapers are an endangered species. 

Marshall stands by the community newspaper ideal after the Crozet Gazette's inaugural issue. "Little did I know how much people are starved for community news," he says.

Crozet Gazette editor Mike Marshall wants the new newspaper to reflect the "Mayberry" aspects of the town, even as it faces explosive growth.