Industry’s demise comparable to Twain’s

Published 10:29 pm Saturday, March 21, 2009

Famed author Mark Twain has often been quoted as saying something to the effect of, “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Twain might as well have been talking about the current state of the newspaper industry.

The national media has been inciting a panic with the reports that the industry is going the way of the dodo bird and dying off at an alarming rate.

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Much of the fervor stems from the Seattle Post Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News ceasing their printed editions and bankruptcy filings by several other papers including the Chicago Times and The Philadelphia Enquirer.

While the current economy certainly poses challenges for all businesses, the newspaper industry will evolve, as it always has in the face of a changing media landscape that included the invention of radio, television and now the Internet.

At least a few times a week, someone comes up to me and asks about The Tribune’s stability and future. Let me assure all our readers and the entire community that we remain in sound financial shape and will weather the current economy like we’ve weathered all of the economic cycles since our inception in 1928 and much longer if you count the two papers that merged to become The Tribune. Comparing The Tribune with some of those other newspapers is like comparing apples to watermelons. The comparison just doesn’t fit.

I often tell people that a good analogy is this: A local car dealer sells cars. GM sells cars. But the two aren’t even remotely the same. In most cases the local dealership is feeling the effects but moving forward. GM is on the verge of collapse asking for government help.

What is the difference? Localized focus and smart business practices.

These large newspapers have tried to be all things to all people for many years and failed to manage in way that prevented massive amounts of debt from accumulating.

Plus, almost all of these papers operate in metropolitan cities that have at least two newspapers and several smaller publications.

The Tri-State is different in that The Independent primarily serves Ashland, Ky., the Herald-Dispatch primarily serves Huntington, W.Va., and The Tribune serves Lawrence County with very little overlap of these missions.

At The Tribune we have always remained focused on serving Lawrence County and providing that news better than anyone.

The national economic crisis has affected all businesses, and community newspapers like The Tribune are no different.

Several traditionally large advertiser groups, namely car dealers and realtors, have faced significant pressure at the national level.

Another factor for the newspaper industry is that a global merger of newsprint manufacturers rapidly increased our production costs each month for 13-months straight, bringing paper expense to, or near, record highs.

Because of these and other pressures, we’ve made the changes necessary to stay ahead of these challenges. Like any smart business, we are constantly working to keep expenses in line with revenue.

In recent months we have made a number of changes to the newspaper to accomplish this goal. Most readers haven’t noticed, and that is by design.

Our goal is continue to do what we have done for 150 years with minimal impact on our readers.

From staff restructuring to modifying the type of paper we use, everything we have done puts us in strong position to serve the community for another century and a half.

The Tribune is reporting more local news, reaching more readers than ever before and continues to be the most effective way for advertisers to reach local consumers.

It is clear that the newspaper industry as a whole has challenges ahead but the reality is that, at its heart, newspapers are about gathering and providing information.

That is a need that continues beating.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at