Originally published May 20, 2017 in The World newspaper of Coos Bay, Oregon
It was a long, dreary winter to endure, wasn’t it?
Note: The following was my last column for The World newspaper. I had already tendered my resignation with a mutually agreed upon departure date. However, once this column appeared in print, and was picked up by a couple of media websites, I was asked to leave just a few days later. The reaction was not unexpected. I would, however, enjoy one final publishership with a wonderful family-owned company in Pendleton, Ore. a little more than a year later.
Thankfully, as spring finally wins out here on the South Coast with more frequent blue skies and blooming rhododendrons, thoughts and attitudes naturally turn more upbeat.
That is certainly true for me, anyway.
In addition to possibly suffering from a mild case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the seemingly never-ending cold rain, I have also been wrestling with a decision that goes to the very core of the profession I have practiced for more than a quarter century.
I’m a journalist, but more specifically, a pencil-pushing newspaper journalist with ink running in my veins. It’s the career I chose and diligently prepared for through college, graduate school, and many long hours, days, and nights of hard work at small weeklies and community dailies. But, as they say, it’s really not work when it is your passion.
The news has long been my passion. Just ask my faithful wife of 25 years. There were many evening phone calls early in my career that went something like this.
Her: “The kids couldn’t wait any longer so we already ate dinner. When do you think you’ll finally be home?” Me: “I’m just about ready to wrap things up. Give me another 30 minutes or so.”
My wife learned very quickly to translate “or so” as meaning another hour or two.
I did learn over time to moderate my hours spent in the office and to make more time for my family. But as the career progressed, promotions often required relocation across country. As a result, our two children attended school in three different states.
It was all for a career I loved, maybe too much.
Running a daily newspaper these day can be very challenging. Competition for readers/viewers (media consumers) has become fierce. The industry’s economic fortunes have changed for the worse. Corporate ownership by remote publicly-traded companies like Gannett, Gatehouse, McClatchy and Lee Enterprises (which owns this newspaper) has become the norm. Independent and family-owned newspapers with deep roots in the local communities they serve are disappearing from the landscape.
The autonomy of the local newspaper is being eroded little by little and replaced with centralized planning from corporate offices a thousand miles away. More and more decisions about your local newspaper – from its national news and feature content to how much you pay for your newspaper – are being determined in boardrooms far away.
Staffing and publication decisions are no longer primarily driven by local market forces, but by the need to satisfy the unrelenting demands of Wall Street shareholders. For more, see an excellent commentary here: https://medium.com/@mattderienzo/death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts-415f4d26ef9f
Amid this environment, my passion has waned. I’ve lost my edge. Perhaps it’s time for a younger generation to take up the battle.
Effective the end of the month, I will be stepping down as publisher of The World newspaper and its affiliates in Bandon and Reedsport.
My wife and I will soon be starting up our own small business. For the first time in a very long time, I won’t be receiving a steady paycheck and benefits. We’ll be on our own. For those of you already running your own business, you know what that’s about. There’s equal parts excitement and anxiety.
It is my sincere hope, however, that The World and the newspaper industry as a whole can successfully navigate the challenging times ahead. Communities like Coos Bay, North Bend, Charleston, Bandon, Reedsport, Coquille, Myrtle Point, etc. deserve a high-quality, daily newspaper. Right now, you still have that with the incredible staff of professionals here at 350 Commercial Ave. I’ve been honored and proud to work alongside all of them for the past two years.
But in another week, I will become another news consumer just like you. I will have no more say than anybody else in how the local newspaper conducts its business. However, we newspaper readers do have a powerful voice.
If you care about the importance of local journalism and agree like I do that it is essential for good government and building a sense of pride in community, then make your voices heard. Write letters to the editor. Reach out to corporate ownership and demand that your local newspaper remain viable and accountable to the local community, not Wall Street. After all, without readers like you, newspapers like The World would cease to exist.
In the meantime, it’s my intention to remain a part of the cultural fabric here on the South Coast and contribute in some small way to its continued economic diversity. Hope to see you around town!