Publisher’s note: The view from inside the chrysalis

The only thing certain in newspapers is change. Here’s where we are.

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I get around Humboldt a lot. I love that part of my job. Being publisher means a huge part of what I do is connect with the public so I can better represent the paper to the people and bring what people say about the paper back to the editorial staff. We’ve been getting a lot of compliments on our coverage lately: thank you. And I get asked a lot of questions about the future of the paper, too. I hear some form of, “Is our paper going to be OK?” nearly every week. You are rooting for our continued survival but you’re concerned. That means you’re paying attention: again, thank you.

Typically the newspaper doesn’t like to write about itself. But there have been so many national changes to traditional media, especially newspaper, that this industry has become its own news story. And locally I have read so many dark pronouncements — sometimes by people with a sliver of the story and an ax to grind — it’s time to lift the lid and share what nearly 25 years in the news business has taught me. Read on for a hint of what’s to come with your Times-Standard.

First: thank you so much to our print and digital subscribers who continue to support us. That said, we’re as impacted as any daily newspaper by the rise of digital media, by the trend of readers who don’t want to pay for their daily news reporting, by changes to employment law, and more.

When times change, businesses adapt or die. The Times-Standard is our community’s newspaper of record. We will — we must — adapt so we can continue to serve you in the years to come.

When the Times-Standard sold our building about five years ago our competition fed rumors that we were closing down. Clearly that wasn’t true. When the paywall on www.Times-Standard.com appeared — something papers across the country started launching in the mid 2010s — those same people called our website “soon to be defunct.” As you can see we’re still here. In fact we serve more readers than ever in our 166-year history because of that website. On a busy month it’s over 200,000 and growing; all local. So when we had to reduce newsroom staff last year — something we only do as a last resort — those same rumor mongers were at it again. Death knell of the paper! Only a matter of time!

We’re going to keep adapting and finding ways to become more efficient, so let’s all get ready for more of those rumor alarm-bells. Here’s the real scoop — you read it here first: We are weighing whether to consolidate our press operations, which means the Times-Standard and the other three North Coast papers we print in Eureka could get printed out of a big, modern printing press in Chico. We did that twice during the blackouts, by the way, which is why your papers were at your homes every morning no matter what PG&E was up to. I was very proud of my colleagues for making that happen. If we consolidate presses we might look for a smaller, more affordable office in Eureka to make sure the news is still collected and produced here — which it will be, no matter where it’s printed. A new state law called AB 5 might force print newspapers across the state to go to mail delivery. Eventually — maybe even as long as decades from now — I expect we’ll have to give up paper and ink altogether and go 100% digital.

We’re not there yet on any of those changes and may never get there on some of them, but I can promise you there will be more changes, and every change we make is intended to keep us open and serving you news.

For those of you ready to blame the “evil corporate” interests who own us, I urge you to consider that profit taking by owners and shareholders has been going on in newspaper for as long as newspapers have been privately owned. The company we’re part of — whose money and assets help keep our operation going in hard times — demands business efficiency. But they never attempt to influence our reporting. Any whiff of that and I’d sound the alarm bells myself. The profit margin we’re on the hook for is like the rent: you take care of that part of your budget first so you can concentrate on the rest of your mission. So that part of the news business hasn’t changed, but reader habits have changed. Technology has changed. The business model has changed. We as a society have changed and so must the Fourth Estate.

When a caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly it doesn’t just sprout wings and take off. It cocoons itself inside an opaque chrysalis. You ever wonder what’s going on inside that peaceful looking shell? The caterpillar liquefies, breaks itself down to the molecular level and reforms into something better suited for its next stage of life. That’s where we are right now, inside the chrysalis, reorganizing our resources and structures, finding our way to that next lighter, faster form that will be better suited to the next stage of our existence. Know what happens if caterpillars don’t change? They die and the species ceases to continue into the future.

So are we doing OK? Yes. But change is hard. No matter how we change one thing will remain: our mission to serve this community. Thanks for rooting for us, Humboldt. Thanks for reading.

John Richmond is the publisher and general manager of the Times-Standard and he wants to hear from you. Email jrichmond@times-standard.com or call 707-441-0584.

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