Cambridge’s Gerlach Keeps Small-Town Newspapers Alive
Some journalists aspire to work at large metro newspapers where they can uncover corporate scandals, photograph high-profile celebrities or write about the details of a gory murder trial.
But, in small-town Nebraska, Cody Gerlach prefers sharing stories of farmers coming to the aid of neighbors after a wildfire, promoting a local charity fund-raiser or photographing high school football stars on a Friday night and sharing the game highlights in next week’s newspaper.
“I enjoy being a bit of a cheerleader for this small-town way of life,” Cody said.
Cody and his wife, Ashley, enjoy living in and raising their growing family in Cambridge, population 1,047, and Cody has found his niche there as the owner and editor of three small-town weekly newspapers.
The Gerlachs have purchased four weekly newspapers in the past three years (with requests to purchase even more) and believe there is a strong future in community journalism.
“People don’t cover the stuff we cover,” Gerlach said. “People don’t cover the volunteer banquet in Cambridge or the two girls from Cambridge who won their age group at the Invention Convention in Holdrege. There’s nobody else who covers that.”
Small Town Beginnings
Cody grew up in the villages of Plymouth and DeWitt in southeast Nebraska and graduated from Tri-County High School with a class of 46. Ashley is from Wilsonville in southwest Nebraska and graduated from Cambridge High School with a class of 40. They met at Southeast Community College in Beatrice.
While Cody once considered a career as a teacher or lawyer, he was encouraged by a high school teacher to pursue writing. He started his education in Beatrice and then transferred to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he earned a degree in news-editorial journalism.
During college, Cody applied for an internship at the weekly Clay County News in Sutton and was instead offered a full-time job. He accepted the offer and worked at the newspaper for a year while still attending college classes. In Clay County, young newspaper owners Darren and Cassie Ivy taught Cody everything they knew about operating a small-town weekly newspaper. The Ivys now own the Hickman Voice, a weekly newspaper that serves more than 25 communities in southeast Nebraska.
“They have been kind of a model for me of what to do and what not to do,” Cody said of the Ivys.
He left the Clay County newspaper to complete his education. Cody and Ashley married in 2007 and while they finished their degrees, they started a family and started their job searches.
When Jolene Miller contacted the Gerlachs about her plans to sell the Cambridge Clarion newspaper, the Gerlachs decided to take the chance and move back near Ashley’s family in southwest Nebraska.
“I liked living in Lincoln, but I didn’t want to raise a family there,” Cody said. “It’s also just not who we are. We didn’t grow up city people.”
Cody began working at the Clarion in August 2010 to determine if purchasing the newspaper was the right path for him and his family. In 2012, the owner of the Oxford Standard weekly newspaper (32 miles away) announced he would soon sell or shut down his newspaper. Jolene determined The Standard was profitable and purchased it. And in November 2014, the Gerlachs purchased both newspapers from Jolene.
Meanwhile, Ashley put her degrees (a bachelor’s in business administration/marketing and a master’s degree in public administration) to work first as the economic development director for Cambridge and now as a business development consultant for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. She works from home and travels to 18 counties in southwest Nebraska helping with development.
In 2015, the Gerlachs purchased the Beaver City Times Tribune and merged that newspaper with the Oxford Standard. In March 2016, they bought the Indianola News as its owner was retiring and merged that newspaper with the Clarion. And later that year, the owners of the Frontier Enterprise in Curtis also approached the Gerlachs about purchasing their newspaper.
“I needed another newspaper like I needed a hole in the head,” Cody said.
But after a fire destroyed the newspaper office, the price became too good to refuse, so the Gerlachs moved ahead with the purchase.
The Daily Grind
Cody’s weekly schedule now includes meeting deadlines to publish three newspapers – the Oxford Standard, the Cambridge Clarion and the Curtis Frontier Enterprise – on Tuesday or Wednesday each week. His 2,500 newspapers are printed at the McCook Daily Gazette. He has staff at all three newspapers who help gather information and prepare the publications for printing.
Cody spends many nights covering school board meetings and community events and many weekends photographing and reporting on high school sporting events, which he loves the most.
He or Ashley take turns driving the Cambridge school “bus” or passenger van each morning and afternoon to earn extra money for a faster pay off on their newspaper business purchases.
That’s in addition to raising their four children (and one on the way!).
“I grew up on a farm,” Cody said. “I’m a busy body. My wife is, too.”
But, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Cody and Ashley embrace their small-town life for its simplicity, opportunities and community connections.
“Our kids walk home from school,” Cody said. “We live four blocks from the school. I live two blocks from the office. My kids know all of their classmates. I know all of the teachers in the school. Our kids have opportunities to do about anything they want to. My oldest son loves athletics. He competes as a 9-year-old in football, basketball, wrestling and baseball. He also plays golf.”
Opportunities also exist for adults who like to serve and be involved in community life.
“I like that I get to take as active a role as I want in the community,” Cody said. “They are always looking for volunteers.”
Cody said Cambridge boasts a hospital, a fitness center, good medical staff, a new hotel and an excellent school.
“We have an amazing school system,” Cody said. “The staff is made up of good people. I’ve got a kid that’s a third grader now, and he’s had nothing but great teachers. Cambridge was one of the first schools to go one-to-one with computers. When it comes to extra-curriculars, it’s not a bare bones set of opportunities. They try to set kids for success wither it’s for college or entering the workforce.”
Cody, who is 32, said Cambridge is a progressive community that has attracted a flock of young people. Its median age is 36, according to city-data.com
And, Cody enjoys his life in Cambridge and his work at the newspaper.
“I like this weekly community-based journalism,” Gerlach said. “You get to work with people on a much more intimate level. You are not an antagonist. You’re a promoter to a great degree.”
His future vision involves one larger county weekly newspaper and the continuation of local coverage of news, events and life in small-town Nebraska.
And, he plans to make it a lifetime career.
“I firmly believe I will be doing this in 30 years and in 40 years,” he said.
The Cambridge Clarion
706 Patterson St., Cambridge, NE 69022