Jared Felkins' Column: Worse things could happen to your local newspaper

“Printer’s ink is the great apostle of progress, whose pulpit is the press.”
Feb 9, 2013

“Printer’s ink is the great apostle of progress, whose pulpit is the press.”
— Horace Greeley

At least once a day, every day, I’m asked about the future of the newspaper industry.

Usually the conversation begins with those brilliant three words in which no one should ever believe anything that follows them, “well I heard…”

I’d love to get these people in a room – better yet, meet them in a dark alley. You know, the ones who love nothing better than to stir the proverbial pot, regardless of what’s inside. In this case, those people who would love nothing more than to see newspapers go away.

Certainly, our industry is changing, most dramatically over the past decade with an economic downturn coupled with a technological boon. I’ve used this space to talk about those changes in the past. I have said there are more changes coming, and one in particular will be unveiled next week that will literally change the face of this newspaper as you know it.

The fact is, newspapers are businesses just like a grocery store or a bank. There are ebbs and flows. There are triumphs and failures. There are heydays and struggles.

But I’m here to tell you right now, this newspaper is not going away, and I stake my reputation on it.

That big change I mentioned earlier is set to be unveiled Thursday as The Lebanon Democrat celebrates its 124th anniversary. Think about that for a minute. How many businesses do you know can claim a run like that?

On Feb. 27, I will have been a Lebanon resident for six months. It boggles my mind just how much news and information tailored specifically to Lebanon and Wilson County we have brought to our readers in that time.

Let’s actually take a look. On a given day, there are five local news stories featured on our front page. At five days a week, on average we offer 25 stories just on our front page. Over the span of just six months, that’s 650 stories, and all for the low price of $50. And we’re just talking front-page news that doesn’t include all the local photos, sports, features and more included daily in your community newspaper.

Just like any business, there is also news that comes along to make us all look bad. I’ve have conversations with many people about The Times Picayune in New Orleans and its decision to move to a three-day-a-week format. About the time I moved to Lebanon, the three biggest papers in my home state of Alabama did the same thing. A massive restructuring, coupled with layoffs, followed the decision. The reasoning given was realignment in a digital age. Baloney.

Scores of mismanagement, lack of planning and inflated salaries among a full cypress tree of executives were some of the real reasons.

Then on Wednesday, the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to cut Saturday mail delivery, which includes newspapers. It’s no secret The Lebanon Democrat relies heavily on delivering those thousands of news stories to our readers each year. So what are we to do?

History has dictated far worse blows to our industry over the past century and nearly a quarter, and we have survived. We will continue to survive. We have a responsibility to survive.

The fact is, the management team at The Democrat has been anticipating a move of this sort for more than a year. We’ve been ready to adapt, just as we have to a struggling economy and the sudden onset of a digital age. Survival is our nature.

Now, Congress hasn’t even looked at the Postal Service’s proposal, and it’s not a given we will lose our Saturday mail. As with many, we hope for the best and prepare for the worst. If all goes as planned right now, August is the target date.

We have plans and ideas, but we want to hear from our readers on how best to proceed. I’ve said it many times, and I believe it. This is your newspaper, and right now we’d like some direction.

Tell us your thoughts on how best to handle the loss of Saturday delivery via mail carriers. Maybe it’s a daily restructuring. Maybe it’s local carrier routes on Saturday. Maybe it includes adding a Sunday edition. There’s no best way of knowing how to proceed unless we get input from those who control what we say and do.

Regardless of what plan is finally launched in a few months, know you can rely on us to bring the best in news, sports, information, entertainment and advertising in Lebanon and Wilson County.

We’re not going anywhere.     

Jared Felkins is The Lebanon Democrat’s director of content. He may be reached at 615-444-3952, ext. 13 or jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter @paperboyfelkins.

 

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