Brian Hamilton: The rest of the story | TheUnion.com

Brian Hamilton: The rest of the story

Former Publisher Jeff Ackerman used to tell a story about a cocktail party he attended, where someone asked him what he did for a living.

"I told him I was a newspaper publisher," he said. "And from the look on his face, you'd thought someone had died."

It's a common response these days when it comes to talk about newspapers. Seems most believe we're all about to write our own obituaries as declining circulation numbers and advertising revenue presents real problems for papers throughout the industry.

A Pew Research Center analysis shows total weekday circulation for U.S. daily newspapers — both print and digital — fell 8 percent in 2016, marking the 28th consecutive year of declines. Across the country, and even in neighboring communities, newspapers are decreasing frequency of publication, or even ceasing print publication altogether.

So, sure, there's reason for concern about the future of our free press. The challenges ahead for newspapers of all sizes are very real. But there's also opportunity, and it's about time newsrooms share that side of the story.

Of course, just as is the case throughout the news industry, the internet has posed many of the challenges we face. But it brought opportunity, too.

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The digital world has opened the door to storytelling far beyond the ability to run a photo and article in print. Video reports once owned by TV stations now are routine.

TheUnion.com has afforded us the ability to break news at any moment, as opposed to waiting for the next day's edition as we had to for the vast majority of our 154-year history. There's no need for "Extra! Extra!" editions when you can post breaking news soon after hearing, and confirming, it. Through social media, push notifications and text alerts, we are able to deliver news to thousands of readers in minutes rather than hours.

The truth is The Union is reaching more people than ever.

DIGITAL DELIVERY

Of course, we have the internet to thank for being able to measure such growth. In 2017, we grew by 30 percent over the previous year, meaning we had 1.2 million more views of our work. Website wide, TheUnion.com had more than 10 million page views in 2017.

That growth is the result in shifting to a digital-first mindset. Whether we're reporting on wildfires, car crashes or winter storms, our staff stops what we're working on, gathers as much info as we can at the moment and posts it. We then use our Facebook and Twitter accounts, sharing to local pages like Nevada County Peeps, Nevada County News & Information and Nevada County Happening Now.

Sharing word through social media has become vital. So many of us are scrolling through social media on our smartphones rather than visiting single websites, such as TheUnion.com. We see something that interests us, click on it, and then we're back to scrolling again.

But even if you're not on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you're still able to get the latest news and information through The Union NOW, a feature we launched last year at TheUnion.com, where all of The Union's social media posts, as well as Cal Fire, Caltrans, Office of Emergency Services, local law enforcement and other agencies and organizations offer local information. The Union NOW portal has proved popular, and its live public safety scanner, regularly ranking among the top-read stories each month.

Our push notification system, with more than 5,600 subscribers, and our breaking news text alerts (text UnionNews to 86677) with another 1,200 subscribers, are our most direct tools as our news messages pop up on your personal phone, laptop or desktop screens.

In addition to all this, our daily email newsletter "The Union Today" is sent to more than 10,000 subscribers each day, sharing the day's top headlines and what The Union staff is working on. Our "Week in Review" newsletter, delivering the week's top stories, lands in another 8,000 email in-boxes each Sunday.

Clearly, there's reason to be optimistic about our free press.

WE APPRECIATE YOUR SUPPORT

I'm blessed to work with a group of talented, hard-working journalists who didn't get into this business to get rich, but to answer a higher calling to make this community a better place to live, work and play.

We were proud The Union newsroom was recognized this week by the California News Publishers Association with its General Excellence Award in the daily division of newspapers with circulation up to 15,000.

Producing a great small-town newspaper in a community our size is becoming more rare. My hometown paper back in Indiana, where I got my start, is just barely hanging on.

The Union, which has served this community since 1864, needs your support. While we celebrate the right to a free press in producing this "daily miracle," it certainly isn't free to pull off.

A paper and online news service is only as strong as the community it connects each day, and we know we have to work hard to earn support from readers, subscribers and advertisers.

We need your help, too, to keep it going.

Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at bhamilton@theunion.com or 530-477-4249.

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