Where Paper Meets Airplanes
RAVENNA, Ohio — It’s a bright Thursday afternoon at Portage County Regional Airport, a few weeks into April. Some pilots are taking advantage of the clear weather.
Others are dusting out the downtime clutter in their hangars or simply displaying their planes in the spring sun.
Bev Hartong is seated in a lawn chair next to her husband, Tim, an electric contractor and aviation enthusiast who has officially been a pilot-in-training since 2002, when he bought his first plane.
Together they run the Ohio-based aviation newspaper Plane and Pilot News.
“It’s like you become your own little neighborhood at your airport,” says Bev, her voice competing with the single-engine plane buzzing off the airstrip. “Every airport has to have that same kind of community and that same friendliness among each other to survive, and that’s kind of how we tried to make Plane and Pilot. We’re your friendly newspaper.”
Tim is wearing a blue pullover jacket with “Plane and Pilot News” and the image of a classic v-tailed Beechcraft Bonanza on it. Peeking out from the hangar behind him, a blue and white Piper Archer 2 features the same logo.
“It seems really simple that we would be the first ones to go. It hasn’t happened.”
But Plane and Pilot News is more than that. A popular source for news in the general aviation community since 1975, the 60,000-circulation paper is flown to airports as far away as Alaska. Online, the current issue, along with issues from the previous two months, can be read in their entirety.
“We try not to be a Northeast Ohio-based newspaper and make everything about this area,” Bev explains. “We try to make everything about general aviation, so it doesn’t matter where you live. The paper becomes something interesting to you, no matter where your region is.”
Plane and Pilot News continues to flourish despite the fact that the newspaper business as a whole is dying a quicker death each day. Bev estimates the paper would lose two-thirds of its readership if it became online- only. Not even Tim would read it then. “I’d rather have it in front of me and page through it and look at it,” Tim says. “And I know that there are a lot of people that are the same as me.”
Bev says she can’t give a good answer as to why the paper has survived uncertainties in both the aviation community and the newspaper world. “It seems really simple that we would be the first ones to go,” she says. If advertisers don’t have business, they’re not going to advertise, she explains. But it hasn’t happened.
The newspaper is a small operation with eight writers on staff and a few contributors. “Some of them are every month and some of them are quarterly,” Bev says. “I have a doctor. I have an air traffic controller, an aviation attorney, a flight instructor who’s also a professor in economics, a retired teacher. I get a kick out of the fact that everybody has a certain writer that they like to go to and read, and I laugh because I’m the same way.” Tim adds that the paper cannot include everybody who asks to write for it. It’s only 24 pages.
Bev handles the editing and printing. Tim is in charge of distribution. “My role is the fun role,” says Tim as he watches a plane lift off. “I get to fly to all the air shows and take photos and meet people and drop papers off.”
Bev’s father, Gordon Jennings, an area pilot and popular figure in the local aviation community until his passing in 1994, started the newspaper more than 30 years ago. “He did it as a way to help people promote their businesses, not so much as a publication to make money,” Bev says. When Jennings passed away, the Hartongs bought the family newspaper.
From the Hartong farm in Ravenna, Plane and Pilot News continues to grow. Bev insists that pilots and aviation fans are a dedicated group. “It spans the ages and spans the sexes — and spans the ratings,” she says. “I have a lot of people.” See our story in the April 2009 issue of Plane and Pilot News.
— Nick Baker is a junior magazine journalism major at Kent State University. He is a columnist and feature writer for the Daily Kent Stater.
“Working on a story for Stories That Fly was very cool for me because I got to see a glimpse of a world I was completely unfamiliar with. It is always unique to learn about a subculture, especially one that has been around for so long.”