BY SCOTT GRAVES
Rarely a day goes by without hearing about the economic crisis, plunging stock market and companies laying off employees. Newspapers continue to write about these stories but, more often than not, are becoming part of the story as they shed news content and employees.
A growing number of readers have been asking me how things are going at the Pilot. I wish I could say andquot;great!andquot;
Newspapers are a business and therefore susceptible to the impacts of the economic downturn. We are almost entirely dependent on adverting for revenue. As advertisers struggle to stay in business, so do newspapers. Industry numbers show that overall newspaper circulation (the number of paid subscribers) has dropped by 30 percent since 1985 - and fewer readers means less advertisers.
Surprisingly, the Pilot is bucking the national trend - our circulation has remained level and even increased slightly in recent years. We could increase subscription rates or charge more than 50 cents for a single copy, but the benefits of doing so would be nominal - subscription and rack sales account for only 10 percent of the Pilot's revenue.
You've no doubt seen the headlines about newspapers large and small reducing pages and laying off employees. Smaller newspapers, such as this one, have escaped the same fate so far, but it hasn't been easy.
We've implemented a hiring freeze, limited overtime and even loaned out one of our reporters to our struggling sister paper to the south. Our goal is to weather the recession without sacrificing the quality editorial content that readers know and expect of the Pilot.
This newspaper is fortunate in that it's owned by a family-owned company, Western Communications, and therefore not subject as much to the whims and knee-jerk reactions of money-hungry stockholders. Also, Western Communications' board of directors is well aware of the importance of strong community newspapers and puts people ahead of high profit margins.
Meanwhile, with no end of this economic slump in sight, the Pilot staff has been reviewing what we need to do in order to meet readers' and advertisers' needs and still maintain a reasonable profit.
One of things we are dong is putting our readers to work for us - mixing professional journalism with unpaid contributions. This is nothing new. The Pilot has a long-standing reputation of encouraging and accepting reader-submitted material. Now, we're simply asking more of that from readers.
For example, when we can't cover an event as requested, our response is not andquot;Sorry, we can't be there,andquot; it's andquot;Sorry, we can't be there but can someone shoot pictures, take notes and send them to us?andquot; More often than not, readers are more than happy to oblige.
At the same time, we are encouraging customers and businesses to continue advertising with us.
We understand that when the economy nosedives, the first reaction for many business owners - as with many consumers - is to tighten their belts. Unfortunately, they often cut advertising or do without getting their name, product, service or other information out to potential customers.
This is the last thing local merchants should do given the growing number of opportunities for people to buy goods and services via the Internet.
If a local business has competitive prices and a strong customer base, they'll do all right. Advertising and local buying will be key to their success, the Pilot's and that of the community.