Thursday, June 25, 2009

The morning after

I see by some of the comments on earlier posts that some of you are dying to talk about the layoffs that occurred here yesterday. Here are the facts: Observer Publishing Co. had 196 employees and now we have 184. Most of the 12 positions eliminated were in Observer-Reporter news and photo. We have not had to cut as deeply as most other newspapers, and newspapers are hardly the only industry suffering in this down economy. As newspapers in this part of the country go, we're doing much better than most. We are somewhat fortunate in that a good bit of our population in Washington and Greene counties is older, less computer-savvy than urban areas, and more dependent on the newspaper for not just local news, but regional, national and international news.

We have been around for 200 years and have no intention of going away. We have an obligation to survive, not just for ourselves as employees here, but for our readers who depend on us. In order to survive, we have to make painful decisions, and we have to keep redesigning our business model.

Our news staff will have to work even harder. Meanwhile, our advertising staff is hardly sitting on their hands. They have been working furiously for the past several weeks on a program we hope will attract new advertisers to a medium we believe is still the most effective at reaching customers for most businesses. And our circulation department has managed to hold our numbers while other papers have seen their circulation nosedive.

Some jackass from one of the Pittsburgh television stations called here yesterday and wanted to know if it was true that the Observer-Reporter was closing down.

No. We've done what we had to do to avoid that. We are not going away. Promise. - G.O.E.


Anonymous said...

Funny how, while it's a newspaper, dependant on the news within to sell itself to the public, it's always the news staff who gets cut first. Tells you a lot about the mindset of the people running things.

Ellipses said...

You can't very well get rid of the people who generate the revenue, though...

Park has piqued my interest, though... I am dying to see the new advertising initiative... :-)

Do we get any hints? Is it a "game changer" ?

Anonymous said...

what comments on what earlier posts? I can't find anything on-line about the 12 layoffs yesterday at the O-R...I read it only in the paper. Am I missing something here?

Anonymous said...

You are confident enough to say "promise." That is a mighty big thing to say in this economy. I guess we have it in writing.

Paul said...

I'll be praying for your promise, Park. Because, Washington County would be much weaker place without a strong daily newspaper like the O-R.

I do think it would be helpful if you indicated what percentage of your reporting staff has been cut -- and what this means for the scope of your local government coverge.

I once served on a borough council in one of the smaller boroughs in Washington County. I can tell you that having an O-R reporter there made a difference, both in the tenor of the meeting itself and in the public knowing what came out of those meetings.

I recognize that we who read the O-R have a responsibility on this end, too. I'm going to try to buy a subscription or two for some family members who I know don't currently get the paper.

Ellipses said...

As an addendum to what Paul said... could you provide any guidance on how the delivery of your product will change in the future... meaning, how will you differentiate online vs print, what new "features" do you see coming online, will online ad inventory be sold differently, and do you have a contingency plan if your subscriber base does, eventually, start to taper off at a faster rate?

Park Burroughs said...

So many questions! You guys are like second-graders in the backseat on a long car trip.
There is nothing new under the sun; what often appears to be innovation is just coming full circle to how things used to be done. That's how I see news coverage of the future.
A century ago, our newspaper employed country correspondents to report the news in outlying areas. They mailed their reports in (thus the dateline). Now newspapers are using "citizen journalists" - mostly online - to fill the gaps left by the disappearance of staff journalists. It's the same thing, only the citizen journalists aren't being paid - at least not now.
For the past 3 or 4 years, our staff has grown smaller, mostly by attrition. This latest move cut our professional staff (reporters, photographers and editors) by about 20 percent.
This means changes in our method of news coverage - less monitoring of municipal meetings, more mobile journalism. Many of the things we report on online will find their way into print with a different treatment. Many things appearing in print, in all our publications, will find their way online. Eventually, newspapers will figure out a way for people to pay for the news they get online. Right now, the one bright spot in advertising is the growth of revenue from online advertising, but its still just a fraction of what's needed to support a news operation.
Thirty years ago, no one paid to watch TV. Thirty years from now, no one will get their news for free. The challenge is to keep modifying our business in order to last that long.

Anonymous said...

When people no longer care to pay to receive their news from reputable sources such as online newspapers, will they start getting their news from sources like Wikipedia? I hope not. What scares me more is that in the last 40 years or so, since I "came of age," each younger generation seems less and less interested in getting anything but entertainment news. If there's any great hunger on the part of today's 20-year-olds to get the stories behind the real news and go into depth with them, I don't see it.

Ellipses said...

I doubt that a model will be devised for a pay for access to news... You would almost be required to get every news outlet to agree to restrict access and then agree on a standard pricing-- which would probably violate anti-trust laws.

Rather than focus on monetizing delivery, I think that the ad pricing model needs to change for online content. There needs to be a better way to deliver advertising messages and to better utilize your growing online readership.

And to the last anonymous... I have to disagree... certainly, there are shallow millennials and generation y-ers whose exposure to news is limited to the daily show and E!... but for anyone who is interested in current events, we are in the golden age of information dissemination. My generation consumes SO much media from so many different platforms... I just don't think you can monetize their access to the information. There's a rule on the internet... once one person has it, you can assume that everyone has it.

If everyone restricts access in order to extract a quarter a week out of the audience, then someone will emerge with free content and an ad model that takes advantage of the billion daily impressions that will come along with the free content.

I can't say that internet advertising is broken... because I don't think it ever worked properly to begin with.

But as far as predicting the future for print vs online... can you imagine any scenario where your print subscribers actually INCREASE in any significant way? Over a period of years...? Print readers will decrease and online readers will increase... but it doesn't have to be 1 to 1... you could conceivably gain many more times as many online readers as you lose in print... so the issue to emerge is... how do we convert those online readers into customers for our advertisers?

Ads have to be delivered differently than they are now. They need to be made more visible, and arguably more intrusive... There should be a strong call to action on a 1 to 1 communication level.

Anonymous said...

By the way for anyone interested, the advertising took a huge hit with layoffs in February. Our department head felt it would be best to make cuts once and not have to go through that again so we lost five people from the advertising department. It isn't just the news department that it being hit here. Since this company is like a large family we all feel the losses.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the people who volunteered to leave....I've lost count of how many employees have gone this year in trying to save the's just so sad. Will it really be enough???