This is a question that has plagued my mind a bit lately. More specifically, I wonder… if you can ‘see’ me, are you reading on the Internet or on a printed page?
Technology, social media and instant news are no longer ‘the way of the future,’ but rather now a way of life. So, as someone who earns a paycheck not only for writing the printed word, but also driving the Circulation business I would be foolish not to wonder. The newspaper business has been taking a hit for quite some time. But who are we kidding? Businesses have been taking a hit for quite some time so why should we be exempt?
As a weekly community paper, we recognize we are a bit unique. Larger papers will not offer the variety of truly ‘local’ news that we do. Little Johnny winning a prize for his artwork will typically not be picked up by a daily paper (unless of course he was ill prior and the story has multiple levels of interest). Our readers look to us to print that picture of Little Johnny and his artwork or Suzy and her prize winning lamb.
Yet as a staff we cannot rest on our laurels. We must always be aware that without our print readers we become like many other papers - a story of what once was.
This problem, however, is a bit more complicated than it appears at the surface.
An additional challenge of being a ‘community’ paper is that (at times) our readers mistake us for a ‘newsletter’ rather than an actual ‘News-paper.’
Before you become offended and cancel your subscription, please hear me out.
The aforementioned Little Johnny and Suzy are partially what creates such confusion. As a community paper we must always walk the fine line and navigate what will our readers find interesting? What will make us different from the paper sitting next to us on the rack? Most importantly, what will keep our readers returning to our pages when there are now so many that are just a ‘click’ away?
We are after all, in fact and theory, a ‘business.’ I recently learned that this is a sentence that makes some readers uncomfortable. But… truth be told, we are in the business of reporting stories and printing advertisements.
As a ‘community’ paper, we recently faced some changes as a result of the changed economy. Efforts continue to be made to keep our product viable for our readers. We are fighting to stay on stands and in mail boxes because as a staff we recognize that we would be missed if our doors closed.
Following the announcement of said ‘changes’ I sat at my desk thinking about our area retailers and how they have been affected by our failed economy. I reflected upon our many ‘Shop Oakdale’ (and Riverbank and Escalon) ads, campaigns and even stories we have written to encourage people to ‘stay local.’ As I thought this through the proverbial acorn fell on my head. Who will promote our business? The business of covering local news for a small community, written by local staff.
Sure the thought of a local paper ‘pleading’ its case, does indeed seem ridiculous. These however are not normal times. These are times, where perhaps ‘showing’ our hand is necessary.
In all honesty, we are fine (comparatively speaking). We have streamlined a few staff positions, but we have not had to lay off staff or take any hard hits.
Admittedly when I show up to work it is hard to ‘turn off’ my community member head. I love this town and our paper. As that community member, I hear firsthand when we get it right and… when we don’t. I love that we can dedicate large sections of our paper to our youth or groups that have gone above and beyond what is the norm. I also love that as a ‘weekly’ we can cover a story more in depth than a daily. We truly can bring the community, ‘community’ news.
As a mother, I look forward to the day when my children can watch for themselves and their friends in the pages of our local paper. It is, in and of itself, a special past-time. A sort of tradition, if you will.
So (selfishly, perhaps) when I thought about us - the local paper - as a local business I wondered how many others realized this or better yet… cared.
I would like to think many, but in such a vast and competitive market who truly knows.
The many facets of the newspaper business work hand in hand. The editorial content (i.e.: stories) are what drive the sales. The sales (i.e.: units sold) are what entice businesses to want to appear in our pages. The more papers we sell, the more the ads are seen. As their business increases, so too does ours.
This simple equation would be why as a ‘community’ newspaper we ‘promote’ local business. Local business is necessary and benefits the community, as a whole. And yet, we (as a local paper) are a community business.
As a management team, we are committed to getting it right. The commitment comes from our dedication to our readers and our advertisers. We all need each other (or at least I like to think so).
Now this is where you come in. You… the reader… the holder of the golden key. The key, which we hope will keep us around for many decades to come. What are we missing? What do you find more interesting than Little Johnny?
We print many pages. Our staff has not been downsized. We have the room to cover more ‘local’ topics, but what would that be?
While the majority of us are local, we run in limited circles. Simply put… we need/we want to hear from you.
Beginning in 2012 and ongoing we will have a suggestion box, as well as an e-mail established solely for this purpose. While we cannot promise to print every suggestion, we can promise to throw it around the office and see what everyone thinks. You would truly be surprised what random facts we find interesting.
One of my infamous newspaper ‘war’ stories is the story I once wrote about a horse that had been missing for 20 years. It was an assignment I was given early in my career, and I dreaded it. But, to my surprise it received a lot of interest and feedback from local as well as distant subscribers. That story taught me to not be so jaded or judgmental. It also taught that given the right tools, I could actually make the story of a dead horse… interesting.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.