We are able to do something this week that we haven’t done in a while: print a 12-page newspaper.
Recent issues have been limited to 10 pages for a variety of reasons including lack of enough advertising to support bigger papers, shortage of resources to produce enough content, and other distractions that while necessary ate into the time we have available.
This week we have plenty of advertising — thank you for supporting us, we never take it for granted — but it will always be a challenge to generate enough local revenue to support even a small newspaper like this one. We have tried to keep our advertising rates reasonable, with slight or no increases in what we charge for space in the paper and our special publications. We haven’t raised the cost of classified ads in the 11 years since I arrived here. We are taking an analytical look at our rates to see if we can make adjustments that will be more attractive to more potential advertisers.
We’ve made some price increases in other areas — small and we hope manageable for our customers — and will likely need to increase our subscription prices, reluctantly.
Our costs — for printing, for mailing, for distribution, for pretty much everything else we buy — have gone up, in some cases dramatically, and we can’t absorb them all without adjusting. In that respect, we’re like most businesses in this country. We’re all affected by the same economic forces.
As for content, it’s strictly a matter of resources if we want to keep most of material locally generated. Imported material may be cheap and take up space, but it doesn’t fulfill our mission.
We’ve been short-staffed for most of this year (some of you have volunteered to help, which I appreciate) — not for lack of trying to fill vacancies. Even given the valley’s many attractions, it remains difficult to attract talent, pay them enough and assure them they can find a place to live that’s larger than the back seat of their car.
As for content, we still manage to cover a lot of territory with our excellent staff and able freelancers, but we also know what we’re missing and that it takes longer to get to some stories than it used to. We’re not always as timely as we’d like to be. Having summer intern Olivia Palmer around for 10 weeks was a great help.
The resource shortage has other implications. We had hoped to restore our weekly events calendar by now, but lack of space and other demands on our time slowed that down. We’re working on it and are closer than ever. Similarly, we haven’t been able to generate the popular 911 blotter for a few weeks, simply because no one has had time to do it. Again, we plan to re-restore it soon.
Meanwhile, we’re making some important internal changes to how we operate. Our business manager/advertising sales director, Tera Evans, is making improvements in our systems that will streamline how we do things, with help from her assistant Traisa Skarbo. Those important transitions take time and energy but will improve our efficiency.
For all our challenges, we are fortunate compared to many newspapers around the country. The recent news isn’t good. More staff layoffs, including hundreds of local journalists, have swept across the industry, mostly by large chains that haven’t been able to maintain profits that satisfy investors, or that have actually lost money. We are actually trying to hire people rather than let them go.
The so-called news deserts — whole swaths of the country that don’t have a local newspaper anymore — continue to grow. The voids are being filled inconsistently if at all. Some observers have come to believe that the old model of huge newspaper conglomerates is less likely to be successful than localized ownership of smaller operations, which are not burdened by cumbersome corporate overheads. “I have, you know, a lot of faith in the kind of one-owner and local publisher route which I think is what is sustaining a lot of the smaller newspapers,” Carol Hunter, executive editor at the Des Moines Register, was recently quoted as saying.
That would be us.
Which is the way I prefer it, challenges and all. When I look around the newspaper landscape, I see a few larger institutions like the New York Times and Washington Post continuing to produce great journalism, and a few regional newspapers doing good work including the Seattle Times and Star-Tribune in Minneapolis. The middle ground is having a tough time. At our end of the spectrum — small regional papers — the results are mixed but not universally disastrous.
We’re approaching our future with both optimism and realism, adapting as necessary. In our business, that’s the key to survival.