People have been asking, “How is The Argonaut doing these days?” The purpose of the question is clear enough. They see that their community paper has less pages lately and they want to know that it will be there for them in the future.
Well, we want that too. To that end we will share with our readers some of the steps that we have taken to weather this storm.
We all watch the news and have noted that the usual indicators of a company’s stability no longer seem to mean anything. We have watched the largest companies, those with long and stable histories fail. Size alone is no guarantee of the ability to survive this “recession” (or whatever they are calling it this week). Nor is the length of time that they have been in business.
In the case of newspapers, size can actually be a handicap. Dailies seem to be suffering the most. Cities that used to support two dailies can now barely support one. As you may have read, the 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News published its last edition on February 27th. Dailies are struggling because they are no longer the only source for national and international news. Television and the Internet are powerful competition to the traditional daily newspaper delivered to the doorstep.
Small local weeklies have, in some sense, an advantage over dailies in that they cover the little stuff happening in the community that the bigger news organizations often do not. Local Neighborhood Council meetings will probably not show up on MSNBC. The preservation of our murals, our wetlands, our ficus trees and our Marina often do not receive the under-the-microscope attention from the L.A. Times that a weekly newspaper such as The Argonaut can provide.
That said, weeklies are feeling the pinch of the current financial situation too. We simply do not have as many ads to fill our pages, and advertising dollars are our only income. Like many other businesses, we saw that we had a problem.
The first step was to face the fact that The Argonaut needs to be, for a time, a smaller paper than it once was. This is a humbling proposition when we had always measured our success in numbers of pages. We knew that to survive, we needed to trim our costs. We needed to become leaner and more efficient.
Some of our cost-cutting changes were small, but over time they add up. Like many other businesses, we adopted some energy-saving habits that cut our utility costs. We’ve negotiated for better rates on our employees’ health insurance. We’ve shopped around for lower prices for printing of our paper, one of our largest expenses. (The Argonaut does not own its presses and has always contracted that work out to a commercial printer.)
The most recent and most difficult cutback was facing the need to lay off a few people, good people who did their jobs well. We had, and continue to have, an excellent staff, dedicated to putting out the paper each week, some with many years of experience with The Argonaut.
But all this economizing does not mean that we need to sacrifice quality. Our news department continues to write about the local news our readers depend upon us to cover. Our columnists still provide their unique views, though on a rotating basis.
For years, readers of our What’s On section had been requesting that we list local activities and entertainment by date and now the combined What’s On/ Community Calendar answers that need. It takes less space than our old listings, uses less newsprint, costs less to maintain, and is more reader-friendly. (The old listings have moved to our online edition at www.argonautnewspaper.com).
What we have not done is raised our advertising rates. We understand that our advertisers are also going through a tough time and we have consciously chosen to find other ways of cutting costs.
We will repaint news racks instead of buying new ones. We will get more use out of our existing equipment. We are optimistic that having trimmed our sails, we can continue to be there for the community in the future.
What we ask of our readers is this. In the months to come, if you are going out to lunch with a client, shopping for a Mother’s Day gift, getting your teeth cleaned or even making the move to a new home — give the advertisers in The Argonaut a try. When you do, you will be supporting businesses in your community and supporting your local newspaper as well.