The Hippo


Jul 22, 2019








 Jan. 4, 2001

“Morning in Manchester”
“Our first cover was a painting we commissioned to have done of Manchester by artist Dawn LaRose. We felt that Manchester was on the move — that it was morning in Manchester, playing off President Ronald Reagan’s campaign slogan ‘Morning in America.’ The painting had just the right tone and demonstrated that we were going to be a different kind of paper.” — Jody Reese, publisher and founder 
Jan. 11, 2001
“Whatever Happened to Our Manners?”
Photograph by Al Belote. “Our second issue! No one had thought beyond Issue No. 1, so I volunteered to put something together for the next one. (You mean we have to do this again?!) The “Top 10 Most Polite Cities” in the U.S. had just been released, so I investigated what it would take for Manchester to make this list. I talked to the southern lady who compiled the list, and used her comments to set up several tests to see how Manchester would fare. The most elaborate test was inspired by her comment that the city should be welcoming to strangers, especially foreigners, which prompted photographer Al Belote and I to pretend we were non-English-speaking diplomats arriving at Manchester airport. The mission: to see if a Queen City taxi driver would cheat clueless foreigners. So when we arrived at our destination (1000 Elm St.), I held out five $100 bills to see what he would do. (He calmly made change for the $15 fare.)” 
— Jeff Rapsis, associate publisher, with the Hippo since 2000 
Nov. 28, 2002
“The Big Night: A Queen City Restaurant is Born”
Photograph of Siam Orchid owner Eddie Saktanaset by Dan Szczesny. “Done over three days leading up the opening of the Siam Orchid on Second Street (now the Muse Thai Bistro), this story was truly a stroke of luck. We stumbled on to this family drama taking place in real time and on our deadline. Really got into all the excitement that comes in the days leading up to opening the doors. Nice food art on the cover.” — Jeff Rapsis 
May 29, 2003
“Manchester Makeover: 10 Easy Ways to Make the City Better for Under $100,000” 
Photograph by Kriss Soterion of model Michelle Gagnon. “If Hippo’s going to do a story about redevelopment or civic improvement, we’re going to do it the fun way. Step 1: Don’t use the words ‘redevelopment’ or ‘civic improvement’ on the cover. This cover is a fun image but it also focuses on something that has always been a key issue for the Hippo — the quality of life in and around New Hampshire’s biggest city.” — Amy Diaz, editor, with the Hippo since 2000 
Feb. 5, 2004
“Anatomy of a Shutdown: The Closure of JacPac”
Good Mike Flint original art, plus a meaty story that connected the dots to show how Manchester ultimately suffered (and lost 500 jobs) when a once-local employer got caught in industry consolidation and takeover madness. This one won first place for investigative reporting and business writing at the New Hampshire Press Association awards. But its real value was how it helped explain and provide context to an important event that had a wide-ranging effect on the city and the region. It was a story that headline-driven news coverage couldn’t tell, but which Manchester needed to understand. — Jeff Rapsis 
Sept. 21, 2006
“Dawn of the Fall Movies”
This is just a spectacular illustration by Cameron Bennett, a very talented local artist. Director George A. Romero (he of the of the Dead films) was coming to Concord, which is why he was featured on the cover of this look at fall films. — Jody Reese 
July 5, 2007
Clipart image, cover designed by Jody Reese. “First, who doesn’t just love pie? By making it our central image and taking a small bite out of the P in pie we created a whole modern look for the cover. It tells me visually right away that this is a different kind of pie story.” 
Jody Reese 
Sept. 11, 2008
“Greek New Hampshire”
Photo by Sid Ceaser of Joe Poulos. “Glendi, the Greek food and culture fest held each year by St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Manchester, has always been a big deal for the Hippo. Some years we’ve featured it on the cover, and the challenge is always to find new facets of the event to focus on. In 2008, reporter Jeff Mucciarone looked at not just this food festival but the Greek community in New Hampshire as a whole. I’ve always liked this cover not just for taking a deeper dive into a part of our local culture but also for this exuberant photograph.” — Amy Diaz 
April 16, 2009
“50 Favorite Restaurants”
Photo by Sid Ceaser at Piccola Italia Ristorante. “Every year as part of our readers’ poll, we ask Hippo readers to pick the ‘best restaurant overall.’ In 2009, we started, in addition to announcing the winners in that and all the other categories in March, running the list of the top 50 vote getters in that category. And, make no mistake, way way more than 50 restaurants get voted for in that category. That year, Piccola was one of the restaurants on the list, making it one of the lucky few in an area of hundreds of restaurants to get this recognition. I’ve always liked this cover because it was our first year of running the list and because it’s one of many examples of Hippo’s coverage of the local food scene. And also, because meatballs are delicious.” — Amy Diaz
March 25, 2010
“This is an illustration by our long-time illustrator Peter Noonan with strategic font added after the fact. What really makes this for me is the addition of the words ‘Birds’ and the use of them to make them look like birds close up and in the distance. It’s an innovative use of font.” — Jody Reese  
Sept. 30, 2010
“Chili for the People”
Cover graphic by Dave Coscia. This cover illustrated our story about Manchester’s first year hosting the World Championship Chili Cookoff. “Artistic and well done. Everything called out to the reader. The art was cool, fonts were well thought out and it all tied in well with the theme of the story.”— Doug Ladd, circulation manager, with the Hippo since 2004
Aug. 25, 2011
“Unwelcome? A Look at NH’s Refugee Population and Its Difficult Relationship with Manchester”  
Illustration by Tony Luongo. “Artistic and thought-provoking without diminishing the relevance and importance of the story. Transmitted the meat of the story through an easy to understand cover but also called the reader to dig inside.” — Doug Ladd
May 10, 2012
“Salmon, A Love Story” 
Illustration by Tony Luongo. “As with the ‘Birds’ cover, this cover story looked at the status of a part of the natural world in our region. In the case of this issue, the story looked at the coming mating season and what it meant for the recovery of that fish population. I am a huge fan of animal stories — and I always enjoyed Jeff Mucciarone’s reporting on animal issues. This image, which reminds me of The Incredible Mr. Limpet, really helps pull the whole thing together.” — Amy Diaz  
Jan. 31, 2013
“Do You Really Have to Tweet?” 
Clipart image, graphic design by Hippo staff. “I really like the subtle colors of this cover and how we brought together a photo and a graphical element to create something altogether new and interesting.” — Jody Reese 
Oct. 3, 2013
Cover image by Jon Allen. “Very colorful, very appropriate for the story. Artistic, modern, clean and well done from the art to the fonts. Great story to follow! Fun, topical, educational and hip topic...with a cover that represented it well.” — Doug Ladd 
Dec. 18, 2014
“Party Easy” 
Clipart image. Cover designed by Ashley McCarty. “I love the holiday party cover, the gingerbread man with the mustache hot tubbing in a holiday mug of hot cocoa! I think it’s fun and a perfect way to express laid back party ideas. Also, who doesn’t love easy party hints and no-bake recipes?” — Charlene Cesarini, advertising manager, with the Hippo since 2004 

15 Years of Hippo
The publisher/founder looks back on a decade and a half of newspapering

By Jody Reese

Why is it called “The Hippo”?

That is probably the question I get asked the most when it comes to the paper, even now, 15 years after the first print issue hit the streets.
That happened on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2001, 15 years ago. The first cover story was called “Morning in Manchester” and the issue was 16 pages.
Why start a newspaper 
The Hippo became a printed newspaper 15 years ago this week, but the idea for it took root about a year earlier. It was the winter of 2000 and I was a reporter for the Union Leader. Like all the correspondents, I covered the New Hampshire presidential primary in addition to my normal beat, which was Nashua and surrounding towns. Being a reporter can have its moments, but many of them are monotonous. I spent many hours at public meetings and even more that year listening to stump speeches by Al Gore, John McCain, George W. Bush and many other guys that I have long since forgotten about. These stump speeches were mostly the same from day to day, American Legion to American Legion. I was a little bored. 
Since the Union Leader didn’t allow me to write the more analytical, behind-the-scenes articles that interested me, I started a website called (long since abandoned) to serve as an outlet for those stories. The stories were real inside-baseball reporter stuff, and I wanted to reach a larger audience. So after the primary was over I started with the idea of being like, where a friend had recently started working. 
I recruited friends in the business to write additional articles. I brought on Amy Diaz and Dan Szczesny, fellow Union Leader reporters. Shortly thereafter, Amy left the state, eventually going to work for a paper in California, but she kept writing about movies and pop culture. Dan stayed and became my editor. 
In the late summer of 2000, I knew that we’d never make it as just a website. The tech boom was imploding. Though I was still working for the Union Leader, I worked a second job for a web company (and was laid off because business was so bad). Radio host and friend Arnie Arnesen put me in contact with Jeff Rapsis, who, though unknown to me, was Mr. New Hampshire Journalism. He had worked at the Keene Sentinel (10 years before I had), the Claremont Eagle Times, The Concord Monitor, The Union Leader,, the Telegraph and the Little Papers (now called Neighborhood News, owned by the Union Leader). And Jeff had something Dan and I didn’t — money. Not a lot of it, but enough to take our website and turn it into a printed paper. 
Our first issue came out the first Thursday of 2001 and we printed 5,000 copies. 
After the beginning
Those first few months were really tough. Most of the other newspaper people in New Hampshire predicted we’d fail. The odds were stacked against us. All previous weeklies in Manchester and the New Hampshire Times, a statewide weekly published in the 1970s, had failed. 
My research showed Manchester and the rest of southern New Hampshire was changing; incomes were dramatically increasing, up 30 percent in Manchester. And, we had help, lots of it. A loyal group of volunteers helped write stories and deliver papers: John Fladd, my roommate at the time who is now a teacher in Deerfield, wrote stories, delivered papers and put up with my late rent checks. Lisa Parsons, who is our copy editor, wrote a column called Goo about being a new mother and delivered papers (with her son strapped in the back). And there were others. We just wouldn’t have made it without those people’s help. 
We also got huge support from the arts community: the Currier Museum of Art, Manchester Historic Association, the Dana Center at Saint Anselm College, now defunct New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra, UNH Manchester and others. Weekly newspapers rarely have their own newsprint presses so they usually contract with local daily newspapers to do the printing. We printed with the Concord Monitor and they helped us out enormously in the early days. To this day, we still print with them. 
And then...
Everything in the early days was by the seat of our pants. We had almost no paid staff. Once we were able to afford to hire someone I called my friend Amy Diaz to see if she wanted to come join us. She did, and after working for us for about a year, she became the paper’s editor, a role she has held for about 13 years. She’s the architect of the modern Hippo (and my life — she’s my wife). She really figured out our model by zeroing in on the stories that reflected southern New Hampshire’s quality of life. We almost never write about things that have happened and almost always write about things that will happen or that readers can do — information people can use. That decision has made us even more relevant in the digital age. 
In the early days, Hippo was more of a classical counter-culture city newsweekly — sometimes called an alternative newspaper, similar to the now defunct Boston Phoenix. As we matured and wanted to reach beyond just downtown Manchester, we became less political and more family- and food-oriented. Our circulation kept growing from 10,000 to 15,000 to 20,000; today it’s over 40,000 and larger than the state’s largest newspaper, the Union Leader. 
People ask how have things changed over the years. My answer surprises people because it’s “not a whole lot.” When we started, the web was already a big thing — heck, we started as a website, we all had cell phones and we could see phones becoming smarter and more connected. The sames rules apply now as then: if you produce content that people want to read or view, people will show up. Our content and our weekly publishing cycle work well in the static print environment. Our circulation has increased 42 percent in the past three years. The same can’t be said for daily newspapers. The big changes have really come on the daily news side of newspapers. Daily news doesn’t fit the static environment of print. Because of its breaking nature, it fits best on mobile devices. Today, 69 percent of our readers never open a daily newspaper. 
Southern New Hampshire from a business point of view has changed a lot. When we started, many Elm Street buildings were vacant — most of the mills were empty or still being used for manufacturing or storage: today it’s a bustling, vibrant downtown and Millyard filled with tons of restaurants. At our annual Hippo de Mayo Taco Tour in downtown Manchester, more than 40 restaurants participate, and that isn’t close to all the restaurants downtown. 
In the 15 years I’ve run Hippo, I’ve learned a lot — and grown up a lot. The biggest lesson I learned is you need great people to make a great company. It’s important to have a good idea and a good strategy but without great people you won’t be able to make any of that happen. The Hippo has been able to do what it’s done because of the hard work, creativity and ingenuity of people like Doug Ladd, Charlene Cesarini, Amy Diaz, Jeff Rapsis and the rest of the staff. Thank you, everyone, for your hard work. 
So, about ‘Hippo’...
When it comes to the name, I’m not sure anyone believes me, but I actually did a lot of research into names before choosing Hippo.  I wanted a name that instantly set us apart from traditional daily and weekly newspapers with names like Telegraph, Times, Herald and News. I liked several names already in use — Phoenix, the Other Paper, the Bee — and wanted ours to be irreverent. I thought Hippo would do that, and on a practical level it wasn’t already being used as a sports team and didn’t come with a lot of preconceived notions. Also I thought the hippo character would work well for an online publication.
My original name for the website was HippoFreePress — but the shorter URL was available, so I bought it. When we first came in print, we called ourselves HippoPressManchester. But we quickly shortened our name to HippoPress. Even though HippoPress is still our web address and our legal name, we shortened it even more as people started calling us the Hippo. (Today most people don’t use the “the.” I’m fine with that — the “the” seems like a wasted article.)
Today we reach 210,000 readers throughout New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts and have 29 people on staff with others contributing. After 15 years, I want to thank every one of you for continuing to pick us up. We’re happy to have brought you what we call “quality of life” coverage — food, arts, music, outdoor activities, family fun, movies, books and did we mention food? — for the last 15 years and we’re excited to keep bringing you the stories and information you need to enjoy life here. 
So, no, “Hippo” wasn’t my childhood sled or the name of my first pet. It was a fun, unforgettable name for a paper looking to connect readers with more fun and unforgettable experiences in this bustling, ever-changing but still uniquely New Hampshire place we all call home. 

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