Publisher’s note: Culture change is hard and necessary … and we’re just fine

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An important part of my job as publisher of the Times-Standard and www.times-standard.com is to talk with people and learn as much as I can about how we can better serve the community through our mission. It’s also to provide transparency about how we are performing to that mission. The mission is simple and it’s the same (or should be) for every member of the Fourth Estate: to inform, educate, entertain and reflect Humboldt County with the best journalism possible. To that end I issue the following statement: The Times-Standard is doing just fine.

You may ask how I can say that when the paper has laid off so many people over the past few years. First off, if you’re asking this question, it’s valid. We have let people go. Like all businesses we operate to a model of profit and loss. As the business model changes we must evolve to match it or close our doors forever and fail in our mission. As you no doubt know, the business model has shifted more and more to digital over the years. Now, don’t get me wrong, print is still going strong. Our readership is made up of a very valuable audience to our advertisers — local businesses who invest in community and understand that newspaper readers tend to have greater incomes and thus more dollars to spend in the local economy. That’s still there and doing OK. (Matter of fact, just last week one of my paper carrier-managers got injured while his backup was on a very well-earned vacation. I ended up driving around from about midnight until 6 a.m. delivering some of those newspapers. Trust me, there are plenty of them. I’m still tired.) Meanwhile, our digital readership in combination with print has given us the largest audience in our history. But still we must evolve.

Here’s how I’m guiding us through these changes:

Work with my journalists to change how they report the news: The readers have shown us that they want shorter articles in a less traditional, less Associated Press “textbook-type” voice. We’re bringing our word counts down and article counts up. You want more news and faster. We’re on it.

Increase speed to press: A lot of the news that’s posted right away in Humboldt doesn’t really count as journalism — it’s just press releases. Like science, the results of real journalism are testable by parties other than the ones who created the original results. With a press release, however, the reader must take the word of the issuing authority.  Just putting up a press release isn’t the best journalism, so we’re working toward a happy medium. We’ll post more of those press releases right away too but when the subject matter merits we’ll follow up with a more in-depth story. (You may have already noticed those text blocks at the front of some of our online press releases that say “watch this space for updates.”)

Increase community content and engagement: I’m partnering with everyone from our local Chambers of Commerce to city and county government in an effort to get more information directly from the authorities themselves. Look for future columns from supervisors and councilmembers. Eureka Mayor Susan Seaman, is working with us to launch a special section in the coming weeks around National Good Neighbor Week and curating several local parental advice columns as well. (I’m really looking forward to those. Real advice from Humboldt parents about Humboldt issues.) And that’s just a taste of all the new features we’re working on. There’s a lot about Humboldt that doesn’t get talked about — we’re going there.

Modernize the sales force: The days of just waiting for the phone to ring are long gone and my sales team knows it. They’re becoming a crack team of consultants, ready to work with local businesses to customize marketing solutions to real budgets—not just throw something at the wall and see if it sticks. If you want help getting the word out in a way that actually matches the math of your specific situation, call them. They’re good.

Overhaul circulation and customer service: We’ve got a distribution director who really knows his stuff and is totally dedicated to making our newspaper delivery mechanism the best in Humboldt. Looking to make some steady extra money? Call John Mihalyo at 707-441-0544. We have open routes and are looking for entrepreneurial folks to drive them.

Increase communication with the public: This is the first of many “Publisher’s Notes” where I will draw back the curtain so you can see how your newspaper operates and what we’re doing to improve. I’m also speaking with groups who’d like to host me. We are upping our marketing game to include drives for greater circulation. Did you know it’s only 30 cents per day to get over the dreaded online paywall?

Find efficiencies: All of the above is done to increase readership through greater performance to mission and thus increase operating revenues but that takes time. I’m also working very hard to find ways to combine jobs so when someone leaves for another opportunity — one of my folks moved to Oregon when her partner got a dream job — we can take the efficiency. Sometimes I’ll offshore an accounting or administrative task to a sister paper in our media group. But sometimes we have to let someone go because their job has become somewhat anachronistic. My own job is an amalgam of three jobs: publisher and general manager; advertising director; and director of sales for the NorCal Division.

All this change, both positive and negative, hurts. Change almost always does.  But please keep in mind that the Times-Standard and www.times-standard.com still has one of, if not the largest workforce of any news organization in Humboldt County. We employ about 40 local people, more if you include freelancers. Our presses at 930 6th St. in Eureka are responsible for pumping out not only our daily paper but several other papers from Mendocino and Fort Bragg to Lake County and Ukiah, which in turn helps support the families of even more people from our region. We are deeply proud of that and I will fight tooth and nail to maintain a tradition of solid journalism in Humboldt County. The way we bring you that journalism will continue to change as readership habits change, but we’ll still be here going strong as long as you’ll have us, Humboldt. We’re here for, and because of, you. Thanks for reading.

John Richmond is publisher of the Times-Standard and www.times-standard.com. He resides in Eureka.

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