She speaks…

Julian Stockwin

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I was recently chatting to a reader who told me he enjoyed my blogs and mentioned that he’d like to see a Guest Blog from Kathy as she is so intimately connected with my work. She was up for it but I did wonder whether I’d done the right thing in inviting her to write whatever she liked, along with her choice of photographs. As any who know her are aware, she can be pretty straight talking.
Without any further ado, over to Kathy…

Partying in Hong Kong. The world of Tom Kydd was yet to open up... Partying in Hong Kong. The world of Tom Kydd had yet to open up… Funny how things turn out in life: neither of us could have guessed that Julian Stockwin would one day would take his place among the greatest sea writers.

But let us begin at the beginning…

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URGENCY!

Dither, dither, dither. Nero allegedly did in 64 AD and fiddled while one of the world’s great libraries burned to the ground. (That’s actually a myth. There were no fiddles then and he was 30 miles away debauching someone, but it fits here.) General George McClellen did it in 1862 and almost lost the Civil War for Lincoln. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain did it in 1938 and Hitler took Europe. President Johnson did it during the 1960’s with the Viet-Nam war and 58,000 Americans were killed.

They all had the same disease, they were in a state of nervous agitated irresoluteness. It is an insidious mind crippler that today manifests itself in many of the country’s newspaper owners and publishers. They dither while one of America’s bulwarks of freedom swings in the wind of irrelvance. Where is the impulsivness, the drive to win, to survive, to maintain the trust newspapers have been given in the 1st amendment?

Thirty eight years ago I was the ad manager of the Bristol (CT) Press. A small 6-day daily twenty miles west of Hartford. My mentor, publisher owner Bart Barnes, Yale class of 1929,  told me to come to the editorial conference room and listen to a presentation he was going to make to several state senators and representatives. Bart was trying to get them to cooperate to build a new 4-lane State Route 72 through Bristol. It would mean a lot to our community. As he talked I could tell the glassy eyed politicos could care less. All of a sudden Bart jumped up and said,”what have you guys done, nothing, nothing, you are not any better than a pile of sh–, sh–, sh–!” He slammed his hand down on the glass topped conference table and quite nicely broke it in  half. He told them all to get out, smiled at me and said, “well now maybe we’ll get somewhere!” He didn’t dither!

Twelve years later I was the publisher of the Bristol Press and wrote a weekly column about community, politics, friends, fools and heroes and, of course, newspapering. I had hired Frank Keegan from the Gannett chain as our editor. Frank is one of the finest newspaper people I have ever worked with. (I think I fired him during the interview.) He is passionate, a firecracker kind of editor who suffers fools lightly and will set the hounds on a story until he got it no matter who was involved. He also has a temper.

The mayor of Bristol at the time was Bill Stortz. He didn’t like me. The town Republican chairman brokered a meeting. I told Frank to be there but to keep his mouth shut, listen and behave, after all the guy is the mayor.

Stortz looked up from his chair and told me I was the worst thing that ever happened to Bristol. I was a moron, a liar and a disengenuous, spineless, demonic fiend. My column was a farce and only denegrated the communuty. For a moment I was paralysed. Then I leaped over my desk, yes I did, grabbed him by his suitcoat and threw him out of my office with a suitable string of expletives. I turned to the town chairman and he just sqeaked and ran out the door. Keegan turned to me and said, “oh my, very nice boss, just be quiet, polite, you know, treat him like the mayor.” I didn’t dither!

I am not neccessarily proud of losing my cool. But I cared about the newspaper I was running. I cared about the community and the readers it served. I knew what our mission was and I wouldn’t  let some puffed up politico demean that.

There doesn’t seem to be any urgency in our business when it comes to the reason we exist. “Back in the day”, as they like to say, newspapers were cash cows. When I was President & CEO of the York Newspaper Company in York, PA in the late 1990’s our profit margin at the JOA level was over 50%. Newspapers in general averaged in the 30% range. Life was good. Advertising was plentiul. The bottom line was strong.

About 10 years ago it all started to change. Some of the big newspaper companies had CEO’s who were incompetent to manage through the downturn, sinking circulation and the growth of the internet. They started cutting newsrooms, content and quality slipped, and readers and advertisers left their pages in droves. Some of the biggest newspaper companies in America were sold or went into chapter 11.

Today every newspaper faces the challenge of morphing from the print world into the digital world. But I don’t see anyone jumping over desks! I see them still cutting and slashing and acting like a moon-eyed Heidelberg man.

I am convinced there will always be newspapers. No entity can deliver what we do every day, every week, all year long.  Here at The Blade we have a plan. We work for an  ownership family that gets it. OK, that sounds like a pure sycophantic response. But it’s true. Our Chairman, Allan Block understands the need to stay ahead of the curve. He promotes urgency and nobody who dithers lasts long around him.

Most of our revenue still comes from print. But our digital income is rising by almost 40% every month. We have a product called “Page Flipper” that will deliver a full NEWSPAPER in digital replica form exact to every word in the printed newspaper. It’s the future….now! It’s being written and edited in an enlarged newsroom with a Keeganesque attitude led by VP-Executive Editor Kurt Franck and Publisher, Editor in Chief John Robinson Block. They produce the printed Blade, its Page Flipper replica, and the content on every electronic platform all from a pure cloud based Libercus publishing system that relieves us from having expensive, maintenance heavy, servers while saving us from huge future capital expenditures.

Our management team is planning and scheming and acting impulsive. Impulsive people make mistakes. I sure have made more than my share. But as Bart Barnes told me,”Joe when you make a mistake take five steps back and study that egg you just laid. Then never lay that one again!”

I am getting too old to leap over desks. But I hope for all our sakes and for the safety of our country and our way of life, the next generation of newspaper owners and managers  understand the urgency to try! God help us all if they dither!

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How to Kill a Newspaper

How to Kill a Newspaper.

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How to Kill a Newspaper

There is a mountain of evidence that daily newspapers around the country have been in economic difficulty for the past 10 years. It is all over the pages of the very newspapers in trouble. The hurt really came during the downturn in 2008 and 2009. The nation’s collapse from the economic “norm” was intensified by weakened consumer confidence translating into diminished advertising revenue along with poor performing 401(k)retirement plans, stock market investments and an abundance of pink slips. Talking heads, columnists, advertisers, family members, even many newspaper editors and publishers claimed to know why and their diatribes always ended with, ” Nobody reads newspapers anymore!”

That reaction reflects the diminishing print circulation of America’s newspapers, but it is far from accurate. The Blade has Sunday and daily paid circulation that serve an average well above 100,000 and this newspaper gets eight million monthly hits and a million unique users on our website. That is a lot of folks reading our newspaper and its content.

Most newspapers in the United States are owned by large “chains” or companies that own a multitude of newspapers in diverse markets. There are approximately 1397 daily papers with total paid circulation of 46,278,000 (in 2009) and 919 Sunday papers with 46,850,000 paid circulation (in 2009).When advertising  revenue plummeted, the large companies, their management, captured by a bean-counter stockholder reliant mentality, began cutting personnel; lowering page count by squeezing out editorial content with the intent of saving newsprint cost; eliminating profit-sharing; freezing then cutting pension plans; charging employees more for medical insurance and freezing wages. Their newsrooms were treated as if they were manned by engineers who produced no immediate revenue; an easy target to cut.

Most of the above are practical business management reactions to an economic environment that threatened the very existence of newspapers. I directed many of those expense reductions at The Blade. I helped manage implementation of many of them except for the news content reductions. There were some changes in the newsroom, whose editors report directly to John Robinson Block, but I agreed and lobbied for strengthening The Blade’s ability to cover the news in-depth.  We have added positions in the newsroom over the past two years. Here’s why. Reduce content, make the newspaper less relevant, and then who wants to read it? There’s nothing there but comics, the AP wire, Dear Abbey, some fancy graphics and the weather page. Readership and circulation drop, advertisers complain and the spiral into oblivion continues.

Now some newspaper owners and managers have gone even further and have committed their daily newspapers to eliminating publishing days. Many very good newspapers in markets across the country, where the strongest media presence is the daily/Sunday newspaper, will not publish a paper on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Or is it Saturday, or maybe they are there on Thursday and Sunday, but no it’s Sunday and Wednesday. Do you get my point?

Those publishers claim their web pages will take up the slack and then look you right in the eye and say,”it’s a digital world now. Our readers will be trained to accept us in a new way, but the content is the same!” Nonsense! It is way too soon to expect all newspaper readers to completely abandon the printed newspaper left on their porch or in the driveway, for any reason. Can you imagine that happening in Toledo? Our phones would melt.

What happens to obits? A death on a Sunday won’t be in the paper until Thursday or Sunday or ever? The big question is what happens to news coverage of the newspaper’s market? Where is our obligation to cover the lives and of the people who live and work in our market? I get it, the subscriber won’t get a paper for three days and just can’t wait for it to come on Thursday, it’s so exciting! Baloney, apathy will be paramount and subscription levels will drop like a rock thrown off the high level bridge in downtown Toledo.

The bean counters, and those they work for in these large newspaper companies, can’t see around the corner. They have no skin in the game of journalism, freedom of the press or anything close to it. All that matters is the bottom line, a healthy return to the stockholders, a healthy profit margin, a very balanced balance sheet! And while they are closing down publishing days , they are killing those newspapers. The skeletons that are left are mere shadows of their great pedigree. They are a rumbling in the graveyards! That’s not to say many of the owners or CEO’s of large newspaper companies don’t want to be the media of record in their communities. They are faced with an economic doomsday mentality exasperated by bean counters and they panicked.

They would say to me, “Ok smart guy, what would you do, how would you maintain the resources necessary to publish? You can’t publish if you can’t pay your bills, can you smart guy?” That’s a fair question, so here goes a straight answer. Get the number crunchers to help plan expense reductions that allows for more editors and reporters, more news hole, solid investigative journalism in both print and digital. Get expense reductions by outsourcing pre-press, printing and preprint inserting. Those are not our core business components. Begin deploying drone photo-journalism, live video streaming on web sites and ads in the digital newspaper , initiate micro-site web sites from the web site’s home page that cover surrounding communities with news content that wouldn’t get in the daily or Sunday pages and also allow for reader submitted content. Develop apps for the iPad and smart phones. Give them the newspaper on all electronic platforms 24/7.  Create an eBlade philosophy of producing a digital replica of the printed newspaper like we are doing at The Blade and market the heck out of it! (See below.) And then sell the heck out of all of them! Push up the number of eyeballs on the newspaper in whatever form its content takes.

There will come a time when a digital product will replace some print. As a newer generation of reader grows up it is likely they will not read a newspaper on paper. But we are not there. The time isn’t now. At The Blade we are planning to provide the reader with a printed and electronic version of that day’s paper to help balance the changing appetite  for news as we morph into more of the digital newspaper world. Our product is the brain-child of The Blade’s Chairman, Allan Block. He has hammered home to me and The Blade’s management team that the newspaper must have a digital replica available to everyone with a computer, iPad, and apps for the smart phone, iPad or whatever. The digital newspaper has to load in nano seconds, turn the page with a swosh, translate into 20 or more languages, turn photos into video, jump pages with one click and demonstrate an easily acquired advertising insert model. And it must replace the traditional newsroom front end computer system with a publishing system using the internet cloud. We’ll be ready in a couple of weeks to showcase a system and methodology that will reinvent the old model of newsgathering and publishing. In fact, it will save our industry. This new system is what I call the Harry Potter version of a newspaper.

The Blade is blessed to be owned by a family that gets it. They understand the vital importance of a daily newspaper to its community. They have the largesse and the dedication to using it to maintain The Blade as northwest Ohio’s strongest and largest news and advertising provider. The other guys who are cutting publishing days too soon are just committing murder.

-30-

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A Beginning

I will be 70 years old in several weeks and I never even heard of the word BLOG until about 5 years ago. Now I am a blogger! A Cup of Joe was something I did when I arrived at The Blade in the summer of 2004. I asked all Blade management employees to come to a meeting and I handed out large coffee cups with A Cup of Joe printed on the side. It was my way of starting the discourse about how to set this grand lady of a newspaper on a course for recovery while maintaining the superior quality of its news content. I run the business side of The Blade and it is my responsibilty to insure the wherewithal to publish the best content available with the most talented editorial personnel. The newsroom at The Blade headed by Kurt Franck, executive editor, reports directly to John Robinson Block, Editor in Chief and Publisher. I report up to his brother Allan Block, Chairman of The Blade. But we are all a team dedicated to publishing one of America’s Great Newspapers!

My attempt at social media will be to talk about The Blade, what we’re all about; the challenges, the victories and the future. I will also blog on about things that interest me like the Toledo Fire and Rescue department, local government, economic development, and on.

But you must understand from the beginning my blog is my blog. It represents my thoughts and opinions. It does NOT represent the opinions of the Blade, its owners, directors or shareholders. It is not news. No blog is news. News come from the minds and fingers of talented reporters and editors in news departments. Bloggers are just another big way to spout off. Not all bloggers are accurate. Some blogs intentionally spew stupid hurtful diatribes that are best left to die somewhere in the cosmos.

My hope is to spur on some debate, have some fun and be constructive. I have been in this business since I was 10 years old working at our family newspaper in Pottsville, PA. I have been in some sort of management role at a newspaper since around 1974. I have seen it all from hot lead pages of type and fingernails caked with ink to golf shirt wearing computer geeks publishing the newspaper in the clouds.

So join with me, it should be fun, sometimes irritating and hopefully productive.

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