Resolutions require reader response

Now that the new year’s here, I’ve got a few resolutions to work on this year.

As publisher and editor of your local newspaper, I’m always interested in doing our job better. A newspaper is a business but, as I’ve noted in the past in this column, it’s different than other businesses. It’s a community institution.

The New Era has served Sweet Home since 1929. It provides something readers cannot get any other way: dispassionate, neutral (as much as possible) coverage of local news – local government actions that affect you, local calamities, local trends, local sports, local community activities – and local business communication in the form of advertising. And it belongs to you in a very real sense, although my family has invested money in it for the privilege of operating your newspaper.

I remember a few years ago, before the recession really slammed home here in Sweet Home, writing that, so far, things hadn’t been too bad for The New Era, despite the constant stream of news about the travails of the big city papers.

What I said then, and what I continue to say, is that community papers such as this one will endure when the chain-owned and metro dailies that try to rely on the same wire copy you can read on dozens of Internet sites may not. But it’s been a hard slog, business-wise, the last few years. Many local businesses either have stopped advertising or have reduced their advertising, which has consequently reduced both the amount of pages we can devote to news and our budget to finance our news operation.

I clearly remember one time, soon after we were forced to reduce page counts in response to advertising declines, that a member of the high school swimming team asked me why we didn’t run as many photos as The New Era used to. She said she thought the coverage had slipped. She had a point. We didn’t have the space for news that we used to, and although I tried to explain that to her, I think it sounded kind of empty to a high school student.

Thank God (I mean that) for the faithful advertisers and inserters who have continued to promote themselves and their services through the newspaper, because that benefits you, the reader.

Having said all that, as publisher, I have goals that we’re working on to make ourselves better this year. Since I think it’s foolish to make decisions in a vacuum, I would like to hear from you, the reader, regarding things we could do to improve The New Era.

Here are some of the things I’d be particularly interested in hearing about from you:

n News coverage – We appreciate having a knowledgeable, fair reporter, who has worked in Sweet Home for more than 15 years, in Sean Morgan. Sean has done a pretty good job of balancing his commitment to the community, as a local resident, with his responsibility to report on local government – the city, public safety agencies, the schools – as objectively as possible. He has opinions, but you don’t see them in his stories. That’s good. I have worked for five or six different newspapers and taught journalism at a university, and I’ve seen a lot of journalists come and go. I appreciate his ability to fairly report stories – and the subjects of those stories frequently assure me that our reporting has been accurate and fair (even if I know it doesn’t necessarily have the “spin” they’d prefer).

That said, one goal for us this year is to improve our news coverage in certain areas, without reducing what we already provide – unless it’s unnecessary. When we’re trying to decide what to cover and what not to cover, reader input is really helpful. I’m not talking just about tips here, although we greatly value story ideas from the community. I’m talking about ways that we might need to consider expanding our coverage. The flip side is that we have to make space for it, but I’m always interested in hearing your ideas.

n Other content – How about the comics? The puzzles? We know some readers really like some or all of those, but the question is whether, given the tight space we have, they’re popular enough to take up inches that could be filled by, say, sports photos. That’s another area about which I’d like to hear from readers. If you have strong opinions, let me know.

n Internet – Our website,, thus far is all free-access. That will change, eventually, and when it does, the website will become a more integral part of improved service to subscribers. More on that when it happens.

n Delivery – As you know if you read my column from a couple of weeks ago, we’re in the process of trying various options on how best to deliver the newspaper and the Extra (which currently is carrying the advertising inserts that were previously included in your newspaper). This has been a problem area for some time, with changing deadlines and rising prices at the Post Office. Whatever the solution is, it will be one that will get you your paper in the most timely, reliable and affordable way.

The more we can keep our delivery costs down, the less chance of price increases for subscribers. We don’t like raising prices any more than you like paying them.

n Subscribers – Although our subscriber base is pretty steady, the economy has definitely taken a mall toll on our readership the last couple of years. We’re aware that some of our readers are in financial straits, and although The New Era actually costs you less each week than you’d pay for a cup of coffee, we know even that is tough for some. So if you have ideas that would make it easier on your budget to pay the $32 local annual subscription fee, tell us.

If you’ve got comments, feel free to e-mail them to me at [email protected] or call me at (541) 367-2135.

Happy New Year!