Scott Stanford: Sorting out the future of newspapers

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Scott Stanford

Scott Stanford is general manager of the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Call him at 970-871-4202 or email sstanford@SteamboatToday.com

— On Monday, the Denver Post announced it had offered buyouts to 90 employees in an effort to trim 37 newsroom staff.

Dean Singleton, vice chairman and chief executive of Post owner MediaNewsgroup, said employee costs such as health insurance and wages have seen double-digit increases while revenues have declined 15 percent.

Also on Monday, the L.A. Times announced it would trim its newsroom staff by 100 to 150 jobs. The Chicago Tribune is looking to cut 100 from its staff.

Indeed, these are trying times for newspapers, particularly the big boys. Consider this: In February, McClatchy sold the Minneapolis Star Tribune to Avista Capital Partners for $530 million. That's less than half of the $1.2 billion McClatchy paid for the Star Tribune in 1998.

I'm fortunate. I came to the Steamboat Pilot & Today in 2001. In the years since, we have grown circulation, advertising revenues and newsroom staff. We have increased our products and in an era of newspaper uncertainty, we are on sound footing.

So why am I writing about what's happening in Denver, L.A., Chicago and Minneapolis? Because it's what keeps me awake nights.

I know my newspaper is far different from those in the aforementioned cities. We're small, we're free, we're geographically isolated and most importantly, we're intensely local. If you're looking for world or international news, you've got six choices (besides the Today) at the Kum & Go - USA Today, the Post, the Rocky Mountain News, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. But if you want Routt County news, we're the only game in town, and you don't have to shell out two bits.

Still, I pay close attention to the metros, because they have such a major impact on our industry.

Metros face an uphill battle. More and more people have less and less time to wade through thick newspapers when there are so many other options available. But when they do pick one up, they expect the coverage to be thorough - from Iraq to their neighborhood.

In the meantime, smaller suburban newspapers keep popping up along the Front Range, continuing to pick off Post and Rocky readers in Golden, Aurora, Littleton, Castle Rock and Arvada. Many of them, like the Today, are distributed free and sharply focus their news coverage on local schools and neighborhoods.

There is an article in American Journalism Review this month by Carl Sessions Stepp, who began his career at the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer. Stepp went back to the newspaper to talk to the twenty-somethings who make up a good chunk of the newsroom workforce. Almost unanimously, the reporters and copy editors love the work they do. And almost unanimously, they find the product they produce dull, outdated and not very useful. They spend their days producing stories about city council meetings, the weather and court cases that they probably wouldn't read if they hadn't written them.

I really like big newspapers. I grew up reading the Columbia (S.C.) State and spent my college years reading the Washington Post. I'm a fan of the Rocky and the Post. When I moved here, I subscribed. But I'd be lying if I said I picked them up as frequently as I used to.

The bigger the ship, the more time it needs to change direction. The same holds true with newspapers. But if we don't change, we're in real trouble.

This isn't meant to be doom-and-gloom on the newspaper business. Nobody is better at gathering and reporting news than newspapers. The challenge is how to deliver that news.

I've got a Rocky Mountain News on my desk that I've been meaning to get to all day. I'm going to go take a look at it.

In the meantime, I'm keenly interested in how you get your news today and how you want to get it in the future. Call or e-mail me - the future of my industry is riding on what you have to say.

Scott Stanford's From the Editor column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today. Visit his blog at steamboatpilot.com/stanford, call him at 871-4221 or e-mail editor@steamboatpilot.com

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