Don Rogers: Ultimately a team, a family
The circulation chief has the hardest job, the advertising director the most important, the editor the most visible. The publisher serves as glue.
Newspapers, which today are as much online as print, only seem synonymous with their news staffs. But just as fire needs fuel, heat and oxygen to burn, we need our at-times unholy trinity, too.
Revenue, content, delivery. Which leg can you break? The publisher aims to make sure none do.
Smaller papers for a while now have gone to publishers who also lead one of these departments. Given that the publisher is responsible for the business, it only makes sense that most come from the advertising side and also lead the sales department.
In the news trenches, I almost always worked for ad-side publishers who were the de facto ad directors even when operations had ad directors, just as editors Alan Riquelmy and Brian Hamilton before him had to suffer … me.
But I’ve also been the ad director and publisher three times so far, each for year-long stretches. I’m still stunned, as I’m sure my bosses were, that my teams led our group, once the whole company, in annual revenue growth — though that might be relative during financial meltdowns.
Sure, I’m proud of those achievements, total team efforts. I have no instinct for sales myself. My interest in the art and discipline is academic at best.
Or as a friend put it recently over a beer, studying me for a long moment: “You can’t sell …”
Too true. But it’s not about me.
I counted on my fingers the other day. Fifteen years as publisher; group publisher; editor and publisher; advertising director and publisher; and one crazy year in Vail as editor, ad director and publisher all at once.
I’d peacock here, except — yep — we had great teams in the trenches who made the magic happen. When I say magic, mostly I mean grit.
Now I’m back in those trenches as editor, a shock after being away for … oh, 15 years. Still, this is the fifth newsroom I’ve led, along with turns as reporter, city editor, copy desk chief, night editor.
There’s a chance I’ll figure out how to ride this bike again, tippy as it feels in the moment. I’m cheering myself on, one shaky pedal stroke at a time.
So OK, I have some experience going for me. Good, though that’s hardly the real question. Do I have the heart for this work? The energy? Am I fired up? Oh, yeah.
I’d add smarts — am I smart enough? — but genius is overrated, and besides, I’m not qualified to make the assessment. And besides that, the flip side is a nagging question about being dumb enough to spend a career in this calling, neither the easiest nor the best paying.
This just might be the most addictive of all occupations. I suspect a lot of that comes from individuals jelling like diamonds as teams, sometimes even family.
HUMILITY A GOOD THING
It’s one thing as publisher to think about what journalists and sellers and delivery people are doing — and of course what they should be doing.
This much revenue coming in. That much much going out. How to maximize this, limit that, and how many people does the damned newsroom need anyway? Oh, same with circ, same with sales. A publisher’s day.
I engaged with the role in my turn, even if I never asked for it and won’t miss it, though OK, that’s a little early to say at two weeks removed. In any case I’ll surely use the experience to become a better editor. This change is a gift, including the heaping cup of comeuppance I’m holding as I make more of that magic happen with my own hands.
It will make me a better publisher, too, should that time come again. Nothing is ever settled forever in this business, another addictive quality.
ARE YOU KIDDING?
We have new owners, new ways of looking at how we operate still fresh off of federal support in 2020 and 2021, which is gone now. We are at root a business, like all the others, in that fundamental relationship between revenue and expense.
Recovery from pandemic in the business sense varies from industry to industry, and we’re no different. Local news media will tend to reflect the broader local business community, tracking below the highest fliers and above the most struggling.
Staffing and organizing for best effectiveness is a constant, sometimes up and sometimes down. That’s simply ebb and flow, reality.
That reality has landed me squarely into a big new adventure. My job is different, not easier. No one works at a newspaper for the ease and relaxation.
I’m more time bound, enmeshed in the deadline cycle between planning, editing, writing, redirecting assignments based on what news just broke. Maybe a wildfire, like this week.
This is simply daily life in the newsroom, which has its equivalents in each department. Papers to deliver, sales calls, stories. Taken all together, these are the new publisher’s plates to spin. I can advise and suggest as asked, but only one person holds the actual sticks.
Can I still do my new part? I dunno. That makes it all the more thrilling. But this is the very opposite of scaling back. Thank God.
Don Rogers is the editor of The Union. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-477-4299.
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