Don Rogers: Paper reflects the times
Before the bust came the boom, and for community newspapers, the boom was fabulous.
We thought it would last forever. We planned accordingly. Our publishers were geniuses, their bosses even brighter. Three-year plans and five-year plans. We charted the next decade out, the revenue trends turkeys fattening in fall.
Editors like me salivated over what they could do with a little more staff, extra pages, maybe some video cameras and good lord, look at these iPhones, so much potential. We could email stories from anywhere, post them in seconds.
So sure of ourselves were we that we turned the weekly Sierra Sun into a daily, like Vail, where I worked. By we I mean my company owned by two sisters, not corporate, never, but family. Family is why I’ve been with them since 1999, when my kids were really kids.
Well, that and the happy fact of locations like Vail, Grass Valley/Nevada City, Truckee.
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Visiting from Colorado, I kicked back on a weekend morning at Andi and Steve’s place in Truckee. I liked to stay with them after annual company meetings then in Reno. Sometimes my wife, Mary, flew out, too.
I remember sunrays and dust motes, warm wood and soft cushions. Coffee! On the coffee table magazines and newspapers, including the Sierra Sun. The woodstove might have been going. It was that kind of moment.
Steve wondered why the Sun was coming out five days a week now. “Is there really enough news?” he asked. Once a week seemed about right, he thought. Maybe twice, a bit of a stretch.
I got to shrug rather than explain. Not my paper, not my problem. But I suggested we had great success in Vail with seven editions a week.
I thought out loud that the Sun erred trying to stay all local as a daily in a place with so many visitors and second-home owners. With a tight roundup of the world outside, I thought, they could push away The Bee and the Reno Gazette-Journal, which charged. Worked great for the Vail Daily. Denver’s Rocky Mountain News and The Post couldn’t make any headway there because we had everything, and for free.
This seemed to make some sense to Steve, though I think he always would have preferred the Sun as a weekly. He had plenty else on his reading pile.
Eventually, I shared with a higher-up my epiphany from our conversation that morning. He wasn’t convinced.
No matter, the Great Recession soon enough had a lot more to say about the Sun’s future as a daily: Thanksgiving from the turkey’s perspective.
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Out of the blue, the Sun about this time last year did become my problem. I might put it another way in public.
Times have changed. You can’t count on the snow. Online traffic is great, though not so much for the business side. Otherwise I’d be a genius and my bosses even brighter.
Papers across the country and around here — Auburn, Carson City — have gone from dailies to twice-weeklies. Starting next week, the daily in Sturgis, Michigan, is dropping Mondays, which isn’t outside the options for The Union, our daily in Grass Valley. A thousand weeklies have closed in the past dozen years, including the Bonanza in Incline Village last winter.
I don’t get to shrug at the Sun anymore. Don’t get to duck responsibility for the errant name change to Truckee Sun. Nor the decision to drop Wednesdays and return the Sun to its weekly roots.
But good things came from all this, I’ll argue. The upset we caused with the name change told us people still cared. Trimming editions had the happy effect of making the paper fully local, and readers have told me they like this turn very much, keep it up. The irony of my change in outlook is not lost on me, by the way. Live and learn. Try to listen. I’m not sure we did enough of that when we were geniuses.
Anyway, we had to up the print run, which happens almost nowhere anymore. The business became profitable, that iron-hard make or break, no given for any paper now.
So maybe we can make the paper more and more interesting for Steve, a thoughtful guy interested in his community as well as all the fun aspects of the Resort Triangle visitors and second-home owners also love.
Hah, and talk about it over Wild Turkey with the woodstove burning bright. I can think of less brilliant things to do.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.