Publisher’s Perspective: Changes to Tahoe Tribune publishing days (opinion)
July 13, 2018
I'm sure many of you by now have heard the news that beginning next week, the Tahoe Tribune will be going down from three print publishing days to one (Fridays). While this decision was not made lightly, and I understand that for many it is (or will be) disheartening to hear. As a newspaper publisher, even knowing that these were the choices needed for a healthy future, it was painful.
In order to stay viable and continue to produce good, relevant content, change was needed. I constantly ask myself if we did enough to avoid this change. If there were circumstances that could have been avoided or subtle changes that would have helped.
The easy answer is that there's probably always something. The more realistic answer is that I work shoulder-to-shoulder with a great group of people. They work damn hard day-in and day-out. They all share a passion for this community and doing what's right by bringing attention to important topics and holding people accountable. I believe everyone has gone all-in for this organization.
However, it's no secret that print media (newspapers) have had a tough time adjusting to a model that works in the digital age. In the past, the majority of revenue keeping them afloat was driven by print ads with good margins that supported more robust newsrooms.
Revenue from subscriptions historically accounted for a small portion of newspaper revenue. As more and more people found content online, less and less people needed the print edition, which drove circulation down, which garnered less support from advertisers, which in-turn meant less revenue.
That was, and to a degree still is, the national nutshell.
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However, the Tahoe Tribune is a little different. We are a free publication (print and online) so circulation numbers don't quite claim the same narrative here in Tahoe. The biggest similarity with the national situation is the revenue generated by print advertising. Looking at past print editions, we have more than 50 percent fewer ads than we did just 10 years ago. One of the main reasons why: The ever-growing digital landscape.
There have been so many channels and opportunities created for businesses to directly target their consumer or a niche audience that print is no longer what it once was.
While there is still value in the audience that we do reach, fragmentation of available options to reach audiences has never been greater. Ask any business owner how many times they have been solicited by companies for marketing or advertising solutions — I'm sure it's a lot.
Many media companies, including the Tribune, have added digital advertising opportunities for businesses to use either as a stand-alone or in tandem with their print buy to help offset revenue losses in print. While we have many local and regional businesses that do take advantage of our digital offerings, the margins are tight to keep competitive with national companies and it takes a lot to recoup the large losses that were seen via print.
There is a saying in the industry: Print dollars, digital dimes. And it's true. The scale doesn't translate to a business model.
How can you blame a business for going a route that they feel gives them the best opportunity to succeed? We reserve the same right.
However, for every business that has taken a different route and decided to move advertising dollars away from the Tribune, the reality is that local journalism as we've grown to know it (and we believe that communities need) suffers.
We end up with fewer resources to cover important topics like local government, community happenings and area sports, and less revenue to support costs that go to producing and publishing it across platforms.
In analyzing the businesses that support the Tribune in print, the consensus was that most of the businesses supported one edition per week — hence one of the reasons why we are going to one edition.
These reasons help define sustainability as we size ourselves in print frequency (not quality) to best cover what we believe the community wants/needs.
By aggregating the news content that we were producing over three days, and making a single "super" edition once a week, it becomes a much more viable business option and allows us opportunity to help control ever-growing expenses, and puts us in a position to continue to cover news as we have been doing for the past 60 years — it will just be delivered different.
We reach roughly two-thirds more people through our website than we do in print. That's a huge difference and an elephant in the room that we have to address. If we are seeing our digital audience grow, and a limited/decreasing audience in print, it seemingly would make sense to ensure you are positioned to handle the growing segment, while still trying to maintain the audience you are still serving in print. This is our conundrum, our pivotal point — our current disruption to our business.
This is not isolated to Tahoe. It's happening all across the country — even large metro markets like Pittsburgh where the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently announced dropping print days.
Businesses are constantly being challenged by the world we live in. Big box stores, such as Toys-R-Us, are closing. Even entities like our local casinos have to figure out how to change business models because people aren't coming here the way they once did for gaming.
We have to continue to find ways to drive revenue that support the publishing of news.
Local journalism isn't glamorous, but it's always needed. A community should be informed by an entity that can balance both sides and understand that its place, at the end of the day, is to make the community a better place.
This can't happen without support. Our hope is that at this time of change for the Tribune you do not pull away, but show support.
This is a crucial time for news organizations across the nation. We never want to be in a position where we stop publishing news and supporting community. It's too important.
We realize support doesn't come without being reciprocated. If you are a business and haven't reached out to us in a while, you may be surprised at what we can offer and how we can help. The same passion we have to make the community a better place also extends to helping businesses succeed.
Maybe by tackling all of this together, we all can succeed to give everyone what they want — a better Lake Tahoe.
Publisher Rob Galloway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-542-8046.
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