Don Rogers: Never a dull moment
It’s never been more exciting to work at the paper. I’m serious.
I don’t believe our readership ever has been higher. Everyone interested in western Nevada County news can read us, in print or online, your choice. Our reach doesn’t end at the last box we stuff somewhere in north Auburn.
How would Dr. Seuss put it? You can read us on the phone in your car, all alone or with your friends at the bar. You can read us near or far. By laptop or Facebook or hot off the press you can look, sipping coffee in your cup or hiking on a trail with your watch to keep up.
OK, that was fun. You might be thinking I’ve spent maybe too much time with my 20-month-old grandson. Already he can operate a smart phone. I can’t even imagine what awaits him in adulthood.
Meantime, what we’re still calling newspapers have bloomed from their roots in newsprint and hot type, though print remains the medium with the single largest reach in our community. But the online possibilities look infinite. Live streaming, video, tweeting, social posts, email, podcasting, 3-D, virtual reality, augmented reality (no, I’m not talking about D.C. in this case). Drones, virtual assistants, software that can produce news reports, maybe a better spellchecker, and I don’t doubt robots reporting in the field someday, either.
On the sales side, even at the little Union we have data mining options. That is, machine learning or what we’re calling artificial intelligence working in fractions of milliseconds to follow online viewers with customized messages from advertisers. Call it programmatic with localized human guidance.
Everything about this supposed dinosaur, the newspaper, is moving so quickly. Yet the basic means of human communication going back to the cave and nights around the campfire prevails: Tell me a story.
For all the yammering about “fake news,” a time-honored tradition of politicians frustrated with their inability to spin things their way, the reporting isn’t nearly the problem some make out. At least not locally.
No, the real challenge lies in the business end. Never have we had a greater interest in consuming the news, and never have we been more unwilling to pay for it.
Atop that, never have there been more choices not just for getting the news, but for advertisers trying to reach you.
The fragmentation of audiences across all these choices makes marketing much more difficult. This and the business model for print is not the same as digital news.
It’s fascinating, it’s exciting, it’s frightening. And none of the brightest lights in the biz have quite figured it out.
We had a decent 2016 at The Union, but last year was tough on the newspaper business across northern California and the country.
Not just papers, though. All news media, and ironically enough, perhaps hardest on online-only news organizations. Nothing is more disrupted by digital than other digital.
Certainly radio and television, too, quaintly lumped in with papers and magazines as “legacy” media. Our visionaries do enjoy their euphemisms.
The Sacramento Bee’s Tuesday and Thursday print editions have shrunk to two pages more than ours as they and similar metros shift more toward online.
The Auburn Journal has shifted from five days in print to two, Thursdays and Sundays, and gone all local in content.
We’ve been thinking about the right frequency in these transformative times for print, as have papers everywhere. So far, though, we’ve found our efficiencies in other pockets and retained a slightly larger news staff since 2016 to focus more online. This has paid off in 25 percent growth in digital traffic each of the past two years. Thank sinkholes and major fires for some of that, although I’m proud of our folks for fundamental improvements and attention to our online reporting.
Our sister operations in the Lake Tahoe area are making changes, as well. This week we announced the Tahoe Tribune, based in South Lake Tahoe, will take over coverage of Incline Village and neighboring lakeshore communities from the Bonanza.
This will enable the Sierra Sun to focus more on its core community, Truckee, where 20,000 people live in and around its borders in our county. Not that Sun readers or advertisers should notice or care, but the paper and online service will transfer between divisions of our company, from Carson City to The Union’s aegis.
Yep, I’ll have even more reason to drive up there besides my grandson (and weekend snowboarding). I have some extra familiarity from visiting often over the past 30 years, along with serving for 17 years as editor and publisher in Vail, Colorado, another ski town with ties to Truckee.
I got into journalism for each new day unlike the last, fresh puzzles to solve, no end to learning and contributing to something bigger than myself. You know, doing my part to help make our world a slightly better place. That and the ADD.
The big puzzle, for me and publishers of digital and legacy news services around the world, is how best to match the plethora of news seekers with the funding needed to provide coverage.
Nerve-wracking, yes. But pretty exciting, too, especially if we can solve this one.
Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 477-4299.
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