Don Rogers: Sun shifts to next phase
Whoosh. There went my longest employer, Swift Communications, with the new year, selling the company after 21 years with them.
And there goes my shortest, Ogden Newspapers, in just five months, selling The Union to Horizon Publications, owner of Marysville-Yuba City’s Appeal-Democrat among many others, this week.
But Ogden is keeping the Sierra Sun and so just like that, the Sun no longer is my business, my baby. No worries for you, though. The operation is in great hands with my now ex-colleague Rob Galloway. Dare I say better?
Rob, the publisher of the South Lake Tahoe Tribune as well as advertising director of the Sun, is a great fit. I’ve known him since we worked together in 2008 during the Great Recession. He’s just the marketing mind and digital expert that local media outlets need most.
Me? I’m an old editor from Vail stretching himself to publish The Union in Grass Valley and the Sun, which serves long-familiar ski towns. I loved this too-short stint, feeling right at home.
My grandsons both were born in Tahoe Forest Hospital. My dear blood friends Andi and Steve Batie have lived in Truckee for nearly four decades. I began in newspapers in Quincy, not so, so far away. Lots of my heart stays with the lake, the ski runs, the trails and the people you tend to meet in mountain towns, the best sort.
I’ll miss you, but you won’t miss me. Not even a little bit. I couldn’t be happier about that.
I inherited responsibility for the Sierra Sun in midwinter 2018 at a disadvantage. The paper was more visitor- than community-oriented to my eye, was not thriving in a business sense, and had just changed its name to Truckee Sun.
Oh boy. This was a last gasp, with permission to close and I’m sure at least some expected that’s how things would go when the company gave us the shop.
I do take pride in the business side moving from deep red to modest black, then more solidly black, which is to say enough to continue on. Yes, we found ways to make the operation run more efficiently while focusing on community news.
And I learned quickly that “Truckee Sun” was just not going to fly, though the new name sure attracted attention. I got acquainted with all sorts of folks then, none who would have minded my exit in the least. Nothing personal.
First adjustment: We switched the name back to Sierra Sun. I think that signaled something important — that we could listen, at least a little. Some of the readers most upset with us wound up allies, a cool surprise.
Susan Kokenge, who saw many publishers and phases of the Sun over her three decades-plus selling advertising for the paper, had the most to do with keeping us going through that period, though. I had an idea to try out. She made it happen long enough to get our feet under us.
The company had set a very clear, drop-dead goal: No more business losses. I set benchmarks for my bosses. Break even by this month, profitable by that, healthy by the new standards of our industry by then. Miss and we close, simple as that.
I’m no business genius, as many supervisors and colleagues can attest. What happened was far less my brilliant schemes and projections than our folks in Grass Valley and North Lake Tahoe grinding things out in real life.
But I’ll take some pride in our success, too. I believe we were written off to an extent before we began. Most papers in this position close, like 2,000 or so have across the country in the past dozen years.
Absent COVID, would Swift have contemplated selling and Ogden buying? Maybe. Black swan events such as pandemics upend everything you thought you knew.
Regardless, Rob would be poised to lead this next phase of the Sun’s development right now. So coincidence works out. I was contemplating this under Swift, Rob and I timed the move to June 1 under Ogden, and so it’s sealed now, if with some scrambling with the back-end news editing and page design as Grass Valley gives that part up.
I leave feeling great about how we were able to turn things around, great about Rob and what I know he brings in that next-level way, and great about you reading a healthier Sierra Sun.
That and the whole experience was a lot of fun. Thank you for that.
Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, Lake Wildwood Independent, and now formerly the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-477-4299
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