Don Rogers: Taking stock of progress
August 25, 2018
We're six months in since making a fistful of changes at the Sun.
How are we doing?
If asking me, well, so far so good. Better than I expected. This might be saying something considering how we stumbled with the wrong name at first. But the "Truckee Sun" is old news by now, a lesson that took quickly. Doh.
Besides, the bigger moves were closing The Bonanza in Incline Village and going from two editions a week of the Sun to Fridays. The Sun has been daily, twice weekly and maybe three times a week, but we've been a weekly for nearly all of our 150 or so years.
It was, um, interesting to find this snippet in a 1969 edition while researching how long we've been around, under a variety of names: "At least four publishers of the Republican have served in the State Legislature. At least two have been shot to death during their incumbency."
I'll take that as a cautionary about serving in politics vs. observing the sausage being made. And good reason to be glad ire over the "Truckee Sun" didn't flower further in our more peaceful era.
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Another big decision was transferring oversight of the Sun from Carson City to my company's division based in Grass Valley. Now I'm working in Truckee regularly, most Tuesdays and Thursdays. I'm imbedded, in other words, and couldn't be happier. Feels a little like home after 17 years in Vail.
Shrinking editions have helped improve the news content, curiously enough. A bigger staff putting out more papers each week still ran short of local content. The ratio of pages in three editions to each journalist was higher than now with our focus on one. And let's just say the editorial direction was less hometown in outlook toward community participation, the very hallmark of small-town news. We want your news, your views and your pictures, by the way.
Feedback has been encouraging, even enthusiastic, though we know we have a long ways to go. This is hard stuff, getting the direction right. For us, it's to be that local paper second-home owners and visitors love to pick up, too.
Also encouraging, perhaps most encouraging to me, has been the readership. It wasn't long before we needed to increase the print runs to make sure the racks didn't empty too quickly. Online traffic at SierraSun.com is high and growing, too. Surprisingly so.
There are strengths to work with here. Our most direct competitor, Moonshine Ink, has an edge, I think, as sentimental favorite for good reason. They've been consistent for nearly 20 years and I enjoy many of their stories (don't tell them that; I'll deny it!). By the calculations on their own rate card, however, I know the Sun gets about four times their readership, which translates to that much more reach for businesses savvy enough to use the papers.
Room for improvement? Oh yeah, it's intimidating how much I see. Our story mix isn't there yet, for instance. Heavy on traditional youth sports, light on environmental and economic coverage. We haven't yet started on the regular cover stories I envision. We still cover government more as stenography recording meetings instead of issues with real effects and relevance for readers.
We've recognized the Sun shines best as a community news source first — online as well as in print. We just haven't gotten to truly explaining in print after breaking news online, and that those are different stories. This isn't from lack of talent or brains, but because it's hard to do.
Of course, these are the rantings of the publisher. I came from a long career in the newsroom, but I'm not still in the pit. My observations are easy to say, and far more challenging to do consistently.
Still, if asking how we're doing, this is a frank, maybe blunt part of my answer. I see great signs we're on the right track, and a ways to go before we're fully running.
Generally I'm excited, which isn't the norm for our industry right now, looking at neighboring papers across Northern California and Reno.
But here's the thing that catches me short, sobering actually. This question isn't mine to answer, not really. Only to ask.
So how are we doing?
Please let me know when you get a chance. We're learning from you.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-477-4299.