By: Forrest R. Church, Publisher
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
It has been awhile since last finding time to type ramblings that have come to mind. Why readers seemingly enjoy this column is a mystery to me. I have been asked a few times recently when my column will return? I’m pretty sure one such reader disagrees with about everything I type, so they have had nobody to argue with, I’m glad to be of occasion service.
I doubt I can ever promise this will become a weekly column. With around one evening free a week between professional and personal obligations, double shifts the rest of the time, with a family to take care of, free time is rare. Thus time to knock out a consistent column will likely never fully take place.
I will admit when I do have time to put into this piece, I do enjoy blabbing and reflecting. I often feel as if I am sitting around the table enjoying a cup of coffee with friends.
MORE CHANGES IN LOCAL MEDIA — I try to avoid making my column simply a draw for support for not only our small business, but other small town area businesses as well. Yet, here I find myself returning to this key subject. Let’s talk “hometown news” for a bit. Specifically the desire that true “hometown news” can continue long term.
In past columns I have warned that area communities have lost their long standing local newspapers in recent years. Just a few include the Hamilton News, Hicksville Tribune, Antwerp Bee Argus, Montpelier Leader Enterprise, Morenci State Line Observer, Delta Atlas and many more that I’m surely forgetting. I should also note that our former newspapers The Wauseon Reporter and The Edon Commercial were merged into The Village Reporter due to lack of needed advertisement and subscription community support to keep these individual newspaper operating in the black. One of the toughest business decisions I ever made involved merging these former publications into The Village Reporter, though looking back, I think it was the best decision for both the community and our small company.
Keep in mind that in many cases, when towns lost their hometown newspaper, the oldest business in town also closed (many dating back to the late 1800’s).
With this stated, I was saddened to learn last week that both the Fulton County Expositor and Swanton Enterprise were merged with Napoleon’s Northwest Signal.
Some may feel that the softening of local competition in the media may somehow excite me or make our job easier at The Village Reporter / Northwest Ohio Publishing LLC due to “less players” involved. While it is true from time to time their was competition for a piece of the advertisement dollars spent by area businesses among competing newspapers, I consider the loss of these publications for various reasons extremely sad. I do hope the merger effort works well for them and the communities they now serve.
I know some of the above mentioned hometown publications closed because of aging owners. Nobody younger wanted to purchase and continue publications to the tune of 80-100 hour work weeks for an hourly wage half of what a 15 year old now makes at a fast food restaurant. Hometown newspapers have among the thinnest profit margins of any business you will find, I doubt potential buyers were no overly excited by thin business numbers.
While newspaper competition was never something I rejoiced over, the truth is when an area has multiple publications serving a district, what we miss in coverage the other publication may have covered and more often than not, vice versa. It was a win / win for our communities and schools.
In addition, competition forces business to strive to provide products at a good price and to always take measures to try to stay one step ahead of competition. In a way, newspaper competition is like having that trainer at the gym call you out to push through just one more rep when maxed out on a deadlift. You often become your best when you have someone pushing you, business is much the same.
While numerous towns are losing/lost hometown newspapers, some have been purchased by large out of state corporations for merger purposes. This trend has occurred for decades, especially in the south, but now ever increasingly in the greater Ohio, Michigan and Indiana areas.
I honestly cringe a little at this national trend, but it is better than newspapers being lost to full closure of operation which is happening more times than not, especially over the past decade.
At the end of the day, a business has to remain profitable which often involves change. If there is no change then the inevitable closure will occur. Unlike the government that can just print more money to make up deficits, business have to play with common sense math; math that needs to finish with the color black not red.
I do not pretend to know all the inner workings of mega corporations that are nationally “buying up” small newspapers whether these purchases are in our immediate area, regional, or at the national level.
I am fully aware when small town newspapers are bought, a large percentage of their staff are immediately released. I’ve heard horror stories at newspaper convention gatherings and in fellowship with other publishers from around the country surrounding a few of these buyouts / mergers / closings.
Instead of having a page design department at each local newspaper the corporation owns dotted around the country, one employee outside these local areas will design pages for all newspapers the large corporation owns. Most of the page designers and their payroll expenses can be eliminated, now consolidated by centralized efforts. This of course happens in more newspaper production areas than just graphic design.
Long story short a sizable amount of staff are cut locally and outsourced out of state, leaving less staff members (tax base) at the local level. I will not bore you with details that some are using out of country design teams which not only takes tax revenues and employment away from the local and national level, but even overseas. While this nightmare situation has happened, especially in the South, I pray it does not fully occur in our small part of the country.
Again while I understand this business plan’s goal of a healthy bottom line for the large corporation, I have hated having my former colleagues contact me letting me know after years, even decades serving their area newspapers, they are now unemployed because their job was outsourced with next to no notice given.
While I cannot control area hometown newspapers closing and/or mergers, I can let you know that we continue to publish The Village Reporter as a family owned and local employee operated publication. Our tax revenue stays here in the greater Williams County – Fulton County areas of Northwest Ohio. We remain committed at the local level as a family owned newspaper, one of only a few left in the 6-7 county area.
Maybe some of what makes me cringe above concerns you as well. How can you ensure The Village Reporter does not fall into this trend, not that I have ever considered allowing this to happen?
Subscribe yourself. Tell others about us. Market your business within our print and online efforts. Place your small government legal ads and notices with us (we support your tax base, place those ads with us).
We keep our team local, let’s support one another local. Everyone knows it is popular to support hometown businesses, nobody debates the importance of this. You will be hard pressed to find a more rooted local business than our newspaper that dates back to the 1870’s (many names, mergers and territory expansions along the way).
It costs $2.00 per week to support our efforts. In return you receive a traditional 40-60 page per week (average) mailed edition in the mail, the Wednesday E-Edition (same as the print edition), and our daily newspaper format online where 10-20 stories per day are immediately available (no need to wait on the weekly edition to print). Most newspapers charge for each of these services, we include them all. Again, for this for just $2.00 a week.
If folks will not support a hometown newspaper for $2.00 a week it is unlikely they will support other areas of local businesses either. (Do not get me started on the number of donation requests we then receive from area residents and organizations that do not support us or other area businesses).
Just food for thought as we press ahead at The Village Reporter / Northwest Ohio Publishing LLC. Each week I budget the level of coverage we can provide off subscription, counter sale and advertisement totals the prior week. If we did not essentially have two divisions to our business where sales results dictates coverage level, you may be shocked how much more local news coverage we could provide. Imagine if this edition was double in size! If we receive the support needed, I could pull the trigger on doubling our coverage almost immediately but everything we do is determined by the level of support arriving, like most small town businesses.
One of my colleagues mentioned at a National Newspaper Association convention the idea to allow the community to essentially donate to local news coverage. I’m not sure how I feel about this idea, but they shared they received large “donations” that they were able to directly in turn place into community news. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this concept, but it is interesting there have been cases where community members and/or business/ organizations felt the need for local news coverage was important enough to seed into their efforts monetarily.
It has been years now that I have desired to expand our weekly “Year’s Ago” page. As you may have noted, we have finally been able to add an additional second page to the popular section. We are striving to “lock down” more decade by decade local history as time allows, we hope you enjoy the feature. It is important to me to publish local historical data. I fear a day may come where history will be lost forever, without proper publication and archiving it would not be a stretch to see it vanish in a short amount of time.
A long time ago we surveyed you, our readers, and this Year’s Ago feature was voted second most popular, after local sports.
With that stated, I came across a column I wrote ten years ago that still holds true today. Not much has changed in the last decade beyond communication may have declined further, the column reprint in part is below …
“Another sports season, another round of “why is my kid’s sports activities not appearing in your newspaper, why do you give favor of some local sports teams over others?”
“I have stated this over the past 11 years numerous times (now 20+ years), we will print 100% athletic activities that are issued. Because there are hundreds of local contests per week in our coverage areas and we have a small staff, we physically cannot make every contest in person. There is not a newspaper I know that can pull off such a feat, big or small publication. But we guarantee if local coaches and/or parents from any level of competition will provide statistics and game results they WILL BE PUBLISHED. This includes varsity, junior varsity, freshmen, junior high, elementary sports and even non school affiliated programs. We do not care if the team is undefeated or yet to find its first win, these student athletes deserve coverage.” (Reprint End)
All we need is for coaches and parents to utilize technology that allows better / easier communication than anytime in human history. Yet strangely enough, if I open archives from the 1970’s coaches and parents communicated better concerning submissions then, than they do now. Game stats, article and even photos may be submitted to our sports department: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A GREAT MYSTERY — This may seem like an odd place to try to track down a community contact. After nearly three months of attempting to identify and locate a “Grammy Bee” from Delta, Ohio I’m down to this final effort. Grammy, please contact our office. We received your mailed letters but there was not a real name, full return address, phone or email included in your correspondence. Attempts on social media, reviewing with our Delta area contacts, etc. has made finding you feel like a dinner mystery – no success thus far. Grammy, do you read my column?
CONGRATS BRYAN LADY BEARS! — I would like to congratulate the Bryan Lady Bears on a remarkable run and Final Four placement in the Ohio State Playoffs in Dayton. You have made Bryan, Williams County and Northwest Ohio proud!
CLOSING — My wife Casey who designs most of the pages you read each week threatened me in front of a table of witnesses on Friday afternoon. Her threat revolved around this column often being submitted after our deadline. To keep harmony at the office (and home) I will end my ramblings for now, noting I’ve submitted this column only slightly behind deadline.
I’d love to hear from you. As always, feel free to reach out to me at publisher@ thevillagereporter.com or via the mail at 115 Broad Street, Montpelier, Ohio 43543.