By: Forrest R. Church, Publisher
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
I’m feeling a little bummed; school has returned, and the majority of summer is now behind us. It seems like the longer I walk on this blue spinning globe, the more I say, “Where did (fill in the blank) go?” But on the flip side I suppose we should consider our blessings, having the opportunity to enjoy what has been a beautiful 2022 Northwest Ohio weather season. Now let’s soak in as many weeks of remaining warm weather as possible!
QUESTION ASKED (FALL SPORTS PREVIEW) – A great question was asked by a reader regarding not seeing their school’s Fall Sports Preview within the last newspaper edition. Others may have been wondering the same thing so I thought I would address the concern here.
We used to run all of our schools together at the same time in one large preview newspaper section. Over the years, however, media days have taken a major hit concerning timeliness (some schools), which has not made this single preseason section possible. When first publishing local media days twenty some years ago in the early 2000s, they were always held several weeks before the current sports season started (Fall, Winter and Spring Media Days) – 100% all teams. This has changed a lot in recent years. This is no disrespect to our schools as it takes a lot to pull off media days. Ask any Athletic Director trying to work with dozens of coaches, hundreds of student athletes, with a handful of media photographers where their stress level is at during the event.
Please note, however, we used to always have 100% of the teams together (per school) and all photos knocked out in 90 minutes well before the season started. This is still the case for some schools in the two-county area, but it is getting rare. We now often find schools spreading out team photos days and even weeks apart; one school this year even took six hours to take the photos. It is hard to conduct a preview (preseason) when the media day for a team is 3-4 weeks into golf season and it is even harder to budget that many hours for our staff to wait (14 coverage schools).
Thus, we decided several years ago to publish the schools as their media days are 100% completed, spreading schools apart inside our regular weekly sports section. We felt it would be unfair to the schools who completed their media days 100% on say August 10th to have to wait until the first week of September because other schools were 2-3 weeks behind their media day event. I would love to conduct the one big preview like in years past, but I do not see it happening unless we return to the days of full media days being conducted preseason. Right now, we anticipate this year’s preview pages to be spread out over three to four weeks. We obviously cannot publish team photos when photo shoots are still forthcoming.
On a separate note – best of luck to all our student athletes this season!
SHOUT OUT (Small Town Football) – I would like to give a shout out to the North Central Athletic Department and to the community of Pioneer, Ohio. Last Friday the first ever varsity game was held in town. My family lives in the district with our youngsters attending North Central. I have watched this program develop from a long time ago when kids were yet to reach the junior high level. They began to play tackle football up at the Fremont, Indiana league, even playing one game on the turf at Trine University in Angola.
As the kids aged, so did the program. Starting an official junior high, then freshmen and JV effort, with the first ever varsity game held Friday in which the Eagles were victorious (see this week’s news coverage). It has been neat seeing this dream come true for this little one stoplight farm village.
Many of the traditional football programs in our smaller school districts are struggling, some dropping down to 8-man football. I hope all our small programs in the two-county area find a way to continue the tradition of football in our area, it is something special. Having played back in the 90’s myself, I still get goose bumps when driving on a Friday night and seeing the little stadium lights from miles outside our small towns glowing or when stopping at a local gas station and hearing the marching band playing from a quarter of a mile away.
NEWSPAPER PRICING – I will not beat around the bush. We are fighting hard to not increase subscription and/or single piece prices at The Village Reporter. In the last 30 days we have received the largest price increases in both printing and postage that I have experienced in nearly 21 years of publishing news.
These are not minor increases; when figured up annually we are looking at a full time staff position in comparable expense to just maintain. This is not in order to add more pages to your weekly newspaper or other improvements; these are costs we have been hit with just to maintain “as is”. And this mentioned price increase does not include other inflation factors or gas prices. You can imagine our fuel increases to deliver the newspaper to 70 some locations in the two county area (counter sale locations and all our two county post offices). Then imagine our reporters and writers traveling time/gas prices when they may be in Edon at noon on our western coverage area and then we learn of a breaking news story in Swanton to the east and drive across two large counties. When gas is up several dollars a gallon from just a year ago, this adds up fast.
Taking this large financial hit just to maintain is a tough pill to swallow, something every small business in the area and family is dealing with – we are no different. Maybe this has contributed to my “mood” lately.
Our print press increases were due to the cost of paper (shortage) and ink doubling aka our print press had to pass the expenses onto their customers. The USPS has been increasing prices for newspaper delivery for some time. This is a note from the National Newspaper Association back in July: Periodicals published the week of July 11 will see rates rise between 7 and 10 percent, depending upon destinations, mail preparation and rate categories. First class stamps will become 60 cents for the first ounce and 57 cents for the second ounce. Forever Stamps purchased before July 10 can be sold at the old rate of 58 cents if available and can be used after the July 10. Note – our mailing is up 16% from August rates last year.
What are our choices at the newspaper? Of course, we can raise rates, that is what is happening everywhere it seems. When paying the bills I’m hard pressed not to find a single one that hasn’t increased significantly in the past 12 months, aka – they received price increases which had to be passed along to the consumer. Candy bars at the gas station are now over $2. A 99 cent cup of coffee is $2.68. Getting 10 wings at a restaurant is as much as a steak.
I will say this several times in this column, I am trying to avoid what seems like the only answer businesses have, “increase what you charge”. There were a few instances when we raised our rates to $2.00 a copy a year or so back that senior citizens on a fixed budget stated they could not afford the increase as they were living on a fixed income. That literally made me sick to my stomach; we did the best we could to assist these folks, when possible, at least those that communicated the concern to us. So again I’m trying to avoid a price increase. But at the end of the day we cannot operated in the red. Before our price increase to $2 per edition we were spending more to print and mail a newspaper to a subscriber than we were charging (when we broke the 32 page per edition mark). With the cost to print and mail the paper in the last 30 days increasing so heavily, we are right back to a scenario where we lose money if we have a big newspaper edition which is our goal – as much local news coverage as possible.
I can hear some of you stating, $2.00 a copy is already one of the higher rates for a newspaper locally! Many readers who only visit online get upset if they have to spend $2 to support what turns out to be over 300 local hours to produce our product each week. That is another column for another time. Do you expect a restaurant to give away a free steak dinner or the gas station a free tank of gas? Better get off this subject – refer to the “my mood” comment above.
EXPENSIVE OR LEAST EXPENSIVE IN THE AREA?
We had folks complain when we raised rates to $2 awhile back but I would like to point out we are hands down the most affordable form of local news content you can find. How’s that Forrest? You are $2 a copy when a neighboring community newspaper is $1 and another neighboring daily is $1.25!?!
We have averaged 46 pages over the last 12 months @ $2 per newspaper which equals 4 cents per newspaper page (100% local news). Weekly newspapers that average 8 pages, selling their product for $1 = 13 cents per page costs. Daily newspapers averaging 14 pages, selling their product for $1.25 = 9 cents per page costs (a portion is local news). So, despite the fact our product is a bit more overall, because we average 2, 3, 4x more local news, we are half the cost (or less) than other comparable newspapers per page. I know, I know, most people do not think about this at the gas station register when buying a newspaper, just some facts I thought I’d toss out there.
I think it is worth pointing out we are about 55% cheaper (per news page) than most dailies which have a lot of non local news coverage included in their pages and about 64% cheaper than other community local news publications. I think the price on The Village Reporter is great deal, especially when considering we also give readers full access to our website to read stories as they become available (up to a week before the weekly mailed newspaper) AND also the E-Edition published each week (same as our print edition) – almost all other newspapers charge extra for these services. So more local news, cheaper per page costs (by a lot), more services – for a fraction of the cost. Maybe I stink at marketing and need to push this information more.
Note – let me say, support local news, whether us or any neighboring paper, please support local news! Have you noted how many local newspapers have been lost in recent years? Montpelier Leader, Delta Atlas, Morenci Observer (State Line), Hamilton News, Antwerp Bee Argus, etc. Your small hometown businesses need your support more now than any time in history.
Circling back to what do we do about the largest price increase in the history of our company? Do we cut pages? Easy answer, “no”, not if I can help it. My heart and desire as your local publisher is to publish as much news as possible. If the P&L statement would allow, we would easily double our news coverage team and push out a much larger newspaper.
I really do not desire to make cuts. I do not desire to raise rates. HOWEVER you may notice that from time to time our normal page flow will change. These changes are necessary to cut back on the number of sections printed each week (same number of actual pages). Whenever the press stops and has to be set up for another print, it is expensive. There is a big price difference if we publish 40 pages via three prints vs 40 pages via two prints (limited color location is a factor on how many press runs are required). Sometimes in order to cut a print (not pages), we have to put pages in different order – example classifieds behind sports, something a lot of newspapers do anyway. I have heard some snarky comments in passing, “Your staff didn’t put the pages in order this week.” No, we were not heavily drinking when publishing the newspaper and mess up page location, we were fighting to avoid major costs that we are trying to avoid passing along to our readers.
Where am I going with all this? In summary I wanted to let our readers know what is taking place, we are in a major inflation battle. It bothers me, … a lot. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about solutions; wondering why prices are out of control across the globe and where these monies are going?
The good news? We are circling back around to an exciting announcement we were looking at pulling the trigger before COVID hit and put the brakes on the idea. This possibility may help with our concern listed above while ensuring the most local news coverage possible continues with fast delivery. Stay tuned.
How can you help as we consider our options? (1) Continue to subscribe and/or pick up copies at local counter sale locations. Though our prices to print and distribute the paper have increased, our cost per piece goes down once the print press is rolling thus new subscriptions help tremendously. (2) Purchase gift subscriptions as gifts, supporting local business. Anniversary gift? Birthday gift? Just because gift? (3) Purchase photo reprints on our website – 100% of photo reprint funds go back into scheduling our photographers to cover local events (over 800,000 local photos are online for free review).
We appreciate your support! That is all for now, until the next time …
Do you agree or disagree with, as my wife says, long-winded comments? Have thoughts? Send a note if you like anytime, firstname.lastname@example.org or via the mail at: The Village Reporter, Atten: Forrest Church, 115 Broad Street, Montpelier, Ohio 43543.