As I look back on a career that began when I was 11 years old, I realize how rich those experiences have been. I’ve had the privilege of working for four publishers who are in the Texas Newspaper Foundation Hall of Fame, and have learned from each of them. I’ve written sports, weddings, birth announcements, obituaries, news, features, columns and editorials, taken pictures, laid out pages, shepherded talented staffs and sat down and written whole issues by myself. I’ve conceived and executed special sections that brought in huge financial windfalls, and others that made you think, “We did all that work for this?”
I’ve seen Texas newspapers make lots of money – and fail miserably. And I’ve seen newspapers struggle to stay in business, but succeed admirably.
I know newspapers have to be profitable. We owe it to our readers and our communities to thrive, to stay in business and accumulate the resources to cover the news fearlessly. My contention is that newspapers have the best chance of succeeding when they serve their communities — when they play a vital, active role in community life and the lives of their readers.
That’s not just an altruistic anthem to journalism – it’s good business. When a newspaper becomes a “must-read” in its circulation area, the positives multiply. More readers means more ads (if you know how to sell) and that means more resources. Delivering news people can get nowhere else makes you part of the fabric of the community. You’re no longer “them” but “us” – no longer “that newspaper” but “my newspaper.”
The rising tide of putting out a quality, readable newspaper, week after week, lifts all the boats – advertising, circulation, finances. If you’re not putting out a good product, it’s not likely you’ll gain in those areas. Quality journalism, “relentlessly local” and fearless in serving the community, is the foundation of a good bottom line.
It’s possible to have a good community without a good community newspaper, but it’s immeasurably more difficult. More often, great communities have a great newspaper leading the way, cheerleading, fundraising, encouraging every good thing and succeeding.
That’s what we want for Texas community newspapers. Let’s get there together.