Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A vote cast in favor of this job

This job can get a little crazy and stressful (not how long it's been since the last blog post).

This week (and it’s only Tuesday), there’s must have been a full moon because it’s been non-stop crazy.

I’ve had to explain and justify why I won’t remove items from the police blotter (the pot wasn’t his, he was holding it for a friend) including why it’s wrong to bribe me to do so.

I’ve had to explain and justify why the community calendar contains only community events. Hell, an Elvis convention in Pasadena could justify that there are people in small town middle America here that would have an interest in attending — that doesn’t mean it goes in this hyper-local newspaper.

An ad for a local bar was next to an ad for a day care on the page with the school bus schedule and back-to-school information.

It’s just been one thing after another. But the latest thing was crazy only in the sense that it’s not the norm.

I posted a blog on my newspaper’s website Monday afternoon reminding people of the primary election the next day, how some races would be decided by the primary because of no one from the other party is on the ballot and listed the coverage our newspaper has had of candidates the past two months.

A little after 4 p.m. the next day, election day, a woman came to the newspaper office to read the election coverage that spanned several editions. She had gone to the polls and upon seeing the ballot she exited the voting both without casting her ballot. There were too many names she didn’t recognize. Remembering my blog, which she saw via a link posted on Facebook, she came to the newspaper office.

With less than three hours until the polls closed she perused through the newspapers to catch up. We didn’t charge her the 75 cents per edition and stayed open a few minutes past 5 p.m. to let her read.

Most people will either not vote for those candidate or select them at random. Because of the local newspaper, however, this woman took time to be an informed, responsible voter.

Despite all the chaos a small town newspaper editor/reporter sees, it’s the little things like that sometimes that make this job worth it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Death of a salesman (and newsman)

I'm calling this week a failure for our business. Not that the failure specifically happened this week, but the reality of it came to light.

Coming up on the editorial side of the newspaper/news biz, I was always focused on the ideology of the newspaper's mission: provide the news/facts in an unbiased manner, be a government watchdog, find innovative ways of story telling and be the record keeper of history as it happens.

These are fine, lofty goals. But it's not the big picture of the news business. Over the years, I have come to see the overall goals and missions for newspapers and broadcast that carry the news. Yes, it is to deliver pertinent information in a timely manner. But that is just one of many parts in the news machine.

To be economically viable, the newspaper (or news broadcast station) must also be practicable marketing tool for businesses. Specifically, a community newspaper must be a feasible means for local businesses to advertise.

If circulation and readership decline, the value of the product is less to those advertisers (or potential advertisers).

The past couple years I've worried about our declining circulation. But we all know subscriptions and single-copy sales don't make us much money. The ad revenue drives the newspaper.

For the past few weeks, a local grocer who has placed a full page ad every week in our newspaper for decades gave incredible deals through coupons in its ad. The response was minimal. So minimal, that our newspaper will no longer have that ad.

This is a big financial blow to our weekly newspaper. But that's not the only thing I'm concerned about. The low rate of return on great deals for necessary items (eggs, milk, etc.) concerns me from a readership standpoint.

Coupons are a great indicator of consumer response to advertisements. Take many furniture stores or car dealerships - in broadcast ads they'll say things like "Tell them Bob sent you" or "Ask for John." Chances are, the salesmen have never met Bob (or don't care that Bob sent you) or John won't be there to help you. But it gives that business an indication of who is coming there in response to the ad.

If we are getting such a low rate of return on local grocery coupons, what does that say about how many people are actually picking up the newspaper and reading it?

From an editorial standpoint, it means people in this community are not as informed as they should be about local issues.

From a circulation standpoint, it means we are not reaching the number of people we need to.

From an advertising standpoint, we are not a viable marketing tool for local business.

Unfortunately, despite the ideological goals, the latter is the one that matters most. If local businesses cannot use the newspaper as a means to drive more business for themselves, then that product is useless to them - a waste of their money. Those businesses cannot grow through the newspaper.

That's where it hurts the news biz financially. They stop advertising and subsequently stop picking up the newspaper. The domino affect begins.

Unless we can find a way to rebound in circulation, we are, as the pundits have put it, writing our own obituary.

I do not believe newspapers have to die. I believe the way we deliver them can be modified to fit consumers, creating that viable marketing tool.

But that subject is for another blog post.