Sunday, December 20, 2009

Our readers enjoy a lot of company

The following was originally published in The Record.

Whether you read The Record online or in print, you have a lot of company.

While headlines about declining circulation and falling revenues in the newspaper industry might suggest this isn’t our industry’s golden age, the reality is much better than one might be led to believe.

Roughly three-quarters (74%) of U.S. adults – nearly 171 million people – read a newspaper online or in print during the past week, according to a recently-released survey from Scarborough Research, an audience ratings measurement company. When you filter the data for economic and education variables – attention newspaper advertisers – the results are even better. Some 82 percent of adults with household incomes over $100,000 read newspapers each week, as do 84 percent of college graduates.

So if so many people are reading newspapers, why are they reporting circulation is down? There are a variety of reasons: more people are reading online; fewer households are receiving two or more different newspapers in markets where there are (or there used to be) choice; pass-along rates (people or households sharing a paper) are higher; and more people are reading fewer days each week (late-week editions – Thursday through Sunday – seem to be more popular in some markets).

Adding to the confusion is the fact that marketing-wise, the daily newspaper industry has done itself a disservice over the years. We count households while radio and TV industries count viewers and listeners, respectively. While the eyeballs watching the average TV show or ears listening to the average radio station are getting incredibly small (with the average home receiving almost 120 channels, the majority of cable TV shows reach less than one percent of U.S. adults; ditto for the audience of many radio stations during any particular 15 minute period), newspaper audiences have remained significant. As new audience measurement tools (counting readers and not household) attests: Newspapers are truly the last mass media.

The Record’s readership today is significant. Our print product reaches 41,595 readers on the average weekday and 43,274 on the average Sunday; across seven days 73,235 people read our newspaper, according to a Scarborough survey conducted locally this year.

And grows our audience further. Unduplicated readership of our print and online readership combined is 46,192 on any given weekday and 48,112 on Sunday. Over the course of a week, 95,148 local people read our daily newspaper and/or web site.

None of these statistics include our three weekly newspapers, which drives our local, weekly unduplicated readership over 100,000.

So as 2010 fast approaches, I am very optimistic for our newspaper and its ability to recover from this recession. In my next column (Jan. 3) I will add to the list as to why 2010 will be a terrific year for all stakeholders in The Record – employees, readers, advertisers and the communities we serve.

But today is a fitting time to say "thank you" for reading The Record, and to wish that the peace and joy of the holidays be yours.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

RPI's integral role in our Tech Valley

The following was first published in The Record.

The cumulative effect of a number of developments over the past decade – from the creation and expansion of alternative energy-related businesses such as Latham’s Plug Power to the start of construction of Advanced Micro Devices’ $3.2 billion computer chip fabrication plant at the Luther Forest Technology Campus – signaled that the Capital Region is earning the moniker it is marketing as America’s new Tech Valley.

Along the same timeline, Troy’s own Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has quietly transformed itself into a world-class technological research university with global reach and global impact.

How intertwined are these developments? Well, without the latter, the former may never be fully realized.

America’s premier technology corridor, the Silicon Valley - grew mainly from its proximity to Stanford University in nearby Palo Alto. With respected engineering and electronics departments, the university establish in 1951 the nation’s first research park where companies could build facilities and conduct research in cooperation with the school. The seed was planted – with much nurturing and support from Stanford - for a phenomenal run of technological and economic achievements over the last six decades; without Silicon Valley, there may be no Facebook or iPod in our lives today.

When RPI president Dr. Shirley Jackson announced “Renaissance at Rensselaer: The Campaign for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute” 10 years ago, I suspect few entirely grasped her vision for the campus. And there were skeptics who thought the $1.4 billion fundraising goal might be too aggressive.

Her effort was a nod to the college founders’ The Rensselaerean Plan, a statement 185 years ago that gave form to a vision for applying science to life’s common purposes. Here are just a few of the game-changing components of the modern-day plan:
  • Expand the school’s fundamental research activity in technological entrepreneurship and the management of innovation.
  • Introduce the teaching of the fundamentals of entrepreneurship to students across all majors.
  • Cultivate a campus culture that provides the spirit and motivation for inventors to pursue commercialization.
  • Create innovative programs targeted at growing major new technological ventures and creating value.

And for evidence of the impact of “Renaissance at Rennselear” today, look no further than some of the headlines of just the past 60 days: “Space Shuttle Atlantis will carry a new Rensselaer nanomaterials experiment to the International Space Station.” “Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute receives $16.75 million from the Army Research Laboratory to launch a new research center devoted to the study of social and cognitive networks.” “Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have received $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to model how different metals are affected by neutron irradiation.”

Our newspaper has chronicled over the last few days – and will continue to tomorrow – a few highlights of both the impact of the Renaissance campaign and a celebration taking place this weekend on the campus commemorating its completion. Sometimes it is hard to recognize in the moment but this is a historic event in our community … an opportunity to reflect on some truly significant economic, academic and technological developments, and to ponder what is to come.

This investment is going to - well, there is that word again – transform this region over the coming years in ways we can’t begin to imagine. Over time, RPI’s contribution to the Tech Valley will be no less significant than Stanford’s to the Silicon Valley. We join this weekend in reveling in Dr. Jackson’s and all of the Rennselear community’s extraordinary accomplishments.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Troy 100 critic finds publisher in agreement

The following was first published in The Record.

Troy 100 Forum – a twice-annual gathering of business, political, community, educational, religious, and cultural leaders – met this week at Sage College to discuss “How Do Our Arts & Cultural Organizations Contribute To Our Community? “

New to Troy, this was my first chance to attend and I found the environment stimulating; it was reminiscent of other programs I have attended elsewhere such as F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse, a community-wide visioning process.

One of the audience members used an opportunity during the session to criticize The Record; a couple other people defended us, to a point. The conversation centered on whether The Record does enough to publicize and promote the arts. The person complaining said we didn’t run a press release she had dropped off and it gravely hurt attendance of an event.

I mulled over the conversation, discussed it with our editor, and decided to write a public response. Here it is:

First of all, I took the speaker’s comments as a backhanded compliment. It is always good to hear that whether or not we publicize an event has an impact on audience attendance. That signals that our efforts – and our readers – are relevant.

Next, it important to say up front that we do some arts coverage well: Bob Goepfert in particular does a great job for our paper with theater, and Bob and others do a good job with big cultural events and some of the music scene. And we publish a modest cultural calendar on Thursdays.

But it must be said that I wholeheartedly agree with the criticism. There is more we could, should and ultimately, will do.

I am in the camp of folks – many of whom attended the forum at Sage - who feel that a strong arts community greatly improves my quality of life. Beyond just the entertainment value, the arts cultivate cultural understanding and encourage critical thinking and creativity among each of us. And I also buy into the research that shows the arts are vital to a local economy – whether it is in generating sales of art which help keep retail revenue local and artists employed, or it is attracting tourists who seek out the arts and spend money on other things, or it is presenting the picture of a very livable community to people and companies considering relocating here.

So, having established that the arts are indispensible and agreeing the complaint is valid … Where do we go from here?

I would like to say first that the door is open to any arts organization or individual artist to contact me and get me acquainted with your work. I have hit some of the highlights such as Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and Revolution Hall, but there are many more places and people I have not been exposed to in my short time in Troy. Send me a link to your Web site or a brochure, invite me for a tour, or tell me about an upcoming exhibit I should see.

I would also like to meet with groups and start to understand the linkages between organizations and artists. Covering an individual performance is one thing but writing more deeply about trends and issues that highlight and impact larger numbers of musicians, painters, actors, etc. – similar to the discussion held this week - may be more captivating for readers and helpful to the arts community.

And if there is someone who is both an experienced writer and deeply connected to the cultural scene – we have a particular need for the visual arts – who is inclined to moonlight as freelancer, contact our editor Lisa Lewis. The more voices in our paper, the better.

The newsroom and I will work this winter on how we can more effectively use our resources to cover the community and I can truthfully say that the arts are in my top three areas of interest for improving coverage. Hopefully, we can make some minor changes soon but look for bigger shifts as we head into spring.

And now I have a concern and a request of cultural organizations. I have heard from several spokespeople of these groups that they do not set aside monies to market their events locally because they depend on our editorial efforts among other things to get the word out. Our interdependence is mutual; please consider setting aside a small portion of your budget to grow your local audience through us. I would be more than willing to set down and brainstorm ways to do this that are cost-effective and draw new people to your venue or work.

The actress Glenn Close reportedly said, “All great art comes from a sense of outrage.” Here’s hoping that from the outrage of the speaker at Troy 100 this week comes a greater understanding and better journalism.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Former media sales rep offers advice to would-be musicians

The following was first published in The Record.

Some of us spend our entire career in the media.

Some pass through this profession on their way to something else professionally.

And a few juggle between two jobs; one in the media and a second in teaching or the arts, for instance. The media gig might be the one that pays the bills and the second may be aspirational, or vice-a-versa. Usually the candle burning at both ends flickers out on one career and grows brighter with the other.

Stephen Kellogg fell into the latter category for a brief time. A salesman by day for a periodical, he labored in his free time to record his first album. He sold ads for about six months for a publication called "Notes" that focused on promoting concerts in western Massachusetts.

As is the case with most media salesmen, singer-songwriter Kellogg could never have anticipated being in the job until it found him, or he found it. “I think one (as an artist) is always looking for work that allows you some time to keep your own hours, do gigs, etcetera.”

The sales “gig” didn’t come naturally to him – “I'd get so nervous for phone calls it would make me sick to my stomach” – but he says he did learn some life lessons from it. “It was a great lesson in the impossibility of doing something well that you aren't into.”

What he has “been doing well” at, has been nurturing a career that includes three solo albums, four studio albums as Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers, and roughly 1,000 live shows, including an April 2008 appearance at Northern Lights in Clifton Park, opening for Hanson, and an Oct. 30 show headlining at The Egg in Albany. Described frequently as a “roots rock” act, the band is building an audience that appreciates the sound of artists such as the BoDeans, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, and John Mellencamp.

I suspect Kellogg isn’t the first musician to work his way up to the big time who also worked in media sales; I remember meeting lots of musicians throughout my career who were selling ads by day and strumming, drumming or singing by night. But I don’t think as much is made of it as the many journalists who have crossed-over to success in the artistic or literary world, such as novelist Samuel Clemens and Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, to name two.

The Record in fact, has its own working musician. Jason Constantine, a sales rep of three years, is the singer in the modern rock cover band called Off the Hook.

What advice does Kellogg have for Constantines of the world who are still burning the candle at both ends?

“Take care of the music that it might take care of you,” he advises. “It is important to build your business savvy, etcetera, but way more important to get good at the art.”

“I would also say that if it’s his love, make sure that’s how he always represents it,” he adds. “I meet a lot of musicians who tell the world that they want to do it for a living because it seems like a ‘tough living’ or whatever. You have to really need to play to play, and if that’s the case don’t get derailed by self-doubt. Just take the love you feel and make it happen.”

Kellogg’s band may be one of the best you have never heard. But that could change as they keep relentlessly touring and recording. Their last album, “Glassjaw Boxer”, deservedly made USA Today critic’s Brian Mansfield’s list of top 5 albums of the year in 2007, with company as prestigious as Bruce Springsteen and Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. “Heart’s In Pain” from “Boxer” and “Born in the Spring” from this year’s “The Bear” album earned the band some significant exposure with spins on episode of TV’s “One Tree Hill” over the last two seasons. And I suspect a live album that will be recorded later this month at The Bowery in New York City on Kellogg’s 34th birthday may be the effort that puts the band over the top in terms of visibility; this band is amassing a impressive catalogue of songs to showcase together, and the group’s energy is something that is more easily captured on stage than in a studio.

But don’t take my word for it: Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers can be heard locally on WEXT-FM (97.7), as well as on Internet and satellite radio. Also, check out Constantine’s band Off the Hook in local clubs or at

Thursday, October 29, 2009

David, Rachel & me

This was originally published in The Record.

Stories sometime take on a life of their own.

I mentioned to Lisa Lewis, our editor, on Sept. 30 that my next column was going to recount how a newsroom effort I contributed to very early in my career turned into a staple of late night television in the 1980s and early 90s. If you think you know where this tale might be going based on recent headlines, you’re right. Two words: David Letterman. Later that evening the subject at the heart of my idea became the biggest story of the week after his on-air confession that he had affairs with members of his staff.

So I pondered, do I write the column or not? A chance sighting last weekend of a daytime celebrity talk show host convinced me to go for it.

Back to the beginning: I was a reporter at the Wellsville Daily Reporter when, on an Indian summer day in 1982 - much like the day I am writing this - my then-editor Matt Leone and I were sitting around musing about how people from small towns enjoy telling stories about famous people they and, or their friends and family have met. We shared a few stories, elicited some more from throughout the building, and Matt, being the columnist at the time, wrote them down and published them in the paper.

This created what today we would call great water cooler talk locally. And, in an era before office water coolers replaced the drinking fountain, in a town where most days were a slow news day, and the only famous former resident was a semi-pro baseball player-turned-actor named Gabby Hayes, a sidekick to leading actors in a number of Western movies including Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, we made the most of it. We invited readers to send in their tales for publication, too. We called the two-part series “Touched by Greatness”.

Matt – a serious news guy who nonetheless enjoyed these types of features immensely – sent our efforts off to journalism school buddies working in Ithaca and Rochester, and they in turn decided to publish similar efforts in their newspapers that fall. The idea really gathered steam in those larger markets with many reader contributions; the one that has stayed with me all these years was a reader who told the Rochester paper he was living in California in the 1950s when his dog urinated on the leg of a man that went on to be the 37th president of the U.S., Richard Nixon.

Fall turned to winter and it all might have been forgotten about if a staffer from the then-fledgling “Late Night with David Letterman” show hadn’t called Matt and told them they saw the Ithaca incarnation of “Touched by Greatness”, had called the paper, and editors there credited us with the idea. A few questions were asked of Matt and then he was told when a segment inspired by us would air, and that we might get a shout out. A group of us gathered, staying up past our bed times, and watched the show. There was no on-air mention but it was fun seeing our idea in Technicolor.

The skit might have again been relegated to the back of all of our minds if Letterman hadn’t added what he dubbed “Brushed by Greatness” to his rotation of ongoing routines, and the repeat exposure inspired many morning a.m. radio shows to make it a staple of their programming. At the time it seemed at least one call-in show in every city was soliciting listener “Greatness” anecdotes over the airwaves.

Ironically, the routine reached popularity at the same time as entertainment news emerged. The success of the syndicated “Entertainment Tonight”, just a year old when “Greatness” debuted, would spawn the era of the paparazzi and ensure Andy Warhol prediction that“everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes" would come true. These developments also ensured the “Greatness” idea would be quaint within a decade.

Today the average household has evolved from getting just three TV channels to 114 – somebody has to “star” on all the programming on all of those outlets. Even the absolutely talentless – at least when it comes to singing and acting - are becoming renown; all one has to do is be clever for 5 minutes to be seen by millions on YouTube, or be impudent enough to endure a few weeks of humiliation for reality TV stardom. And that’s just television; more authors do more book tours to U.S. cities today, more businesspeople become celebs via the growth in business reporting and event marketing, and there has been a proliferation of ‘experts” in politics and virtually every segment of culture to fill airtime on around-the-clock broadcast news outlets. Even rock acts such as John Mayer and Sister Hazel spend a few days on cruise ships with fans, while lesser stars schlock merchandise at pre- and post-show “meet-and-greets”. So, it seems, everyone who has yet to be famous is tripping over someone who is, and Twittering about it and posting pictures to Facebook.

My entire 15 minutes is still on the clock. The Letterman connection never produced so much as two tickets to sit in the show’s audience despite my trying to snag some through the show’s lottery process every time I headed to New York over the years. And, for a long time, I have also been the odd man out in swapping “Touched by Greatness” stories.

At the time of original incarnation back in Wellsville, I had met no one famous except a few athletes such as Joe Namath at a football camp I attended, and I didn’t think those counted because of the circumstances. (I did have a few stories about folks such as Babe Ruth and former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Sam Rayburn which my parents contributed.) Since then, I have got to interview a couple famous folks as a reporter, from country music’s Boxcar Willie to a guy named George H.W. Bush. And a cousin was a finalist on one of TV’s earliest reality shows, Fox TV’s “Married By America”. Yet, I can still count all my celebrity sightings on one hand with fingers left over: I shared an elevator once with rapper-actor-model Queen Latifah in Chicago, and I saw an actor from “General Hospital” in a London airport. (It seems you gotta be in big cities to increase your odds of bumping into these people.)

But maybe my fortune is changing. After more than a decade of drought in celebrity sightings, my latest happened last Sunday as I was debating whether to finish this column, and the irony is I almost missed it. I was at a wine store at a Washington County apple orchard patiently waiting for a tasting behind a woman who eventually established eye contact with me to, well, let me know I had to move so she could retreat to leave. It wasn’t until she walked out the door my wife (and the buzz around me) informed me that I just been, quite literally, “brushed’ by greatness in the form of one TV star, Rachel Ray.

My wife enjoys pointing out to anyone who will listen – this will be come her own “Greatness” story – that I, a big Ray fan, was clueless to her presence for the better part of a couple minutes. Which brings up my last point about this whole phenomenon: Keep you eyes open because you never know when “Greatness” is going to happen.

Maybe “Greatness” still has some legs at the office and parties as long as some of us remain anonymous. And next time I go to New York? I will test my luck and put my name in the drawing to be in the audience of the Rachel Ray Show instead of Letterman.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tell us who is among the 'best' locally

The following first appeared in The Record.

Whether you work on the front lines or in the back office of a local business – or are the owner - it is rewarding to be singled out for excellent customer service and/or products, atmosphere and value.

With that in mind – and to draw more visibility to the local merchants, restaurants and service providers who offer the best service and value in the greater Rennselear County area - the Record launched its inaugural Readers Choice awards this week.

The first ballot focused exclusively on health, wellness, beauty and fitness-related businesses – from home health care agencies to dental practices to day spas. These ballots were published earlier this week in The Record, and in our weekly publications - Greenbush Life, Latham Life and River Life – as well. Two more sets of ballots are coming up; this coming week we will publish a ballot for restaurants and night life venues, and next week, retail stores and service providers. Look for the ballots Tuesdays and Thursdays in The Record, as well as in the weekly newspapers.

In all, we plan out to give out Readers’ Choice certificates to winners and runners-up in roughly 150 categories.

Also, each eligible reader who votes will be put in a drawing to win a $25 gift certificate from a local restaurant; three will be awarded.

All winning businesses and runners-up will be published in a pull-out Readers Choice section of the Dec. 9 issue of The Record. Our hope is that readers will use the information to shop, dine and use service providers locally whenever possible during the holiday season and beyond.

In other developments at the newspaper:
  • If you missed our coverage of the inauguration of Dr. Susan C. Scrimshaw, the ninth president of The Sage Colleges, stop by our offices to purchase a copy of Friday’s and Saturday’s paper while supplies last. Our staff did a terrific job of previewing (in a commemorative special section) and covering this special event.
  • If you’re looking for a holiday gift for a special someone, consider a gift subscription to The Record. To sweeten the gift, a limited number of these are available with a bonus – two tickets to a holiday performance of either “Scrooge, The Musical” on Dec. 11 or to the Vienna Boy’s Choir on Dec. 20. Both shows are at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. Look for ads in the paper over the next couple weeks promoting this offer.
  • Finally, look for a number of exciting announcements over the next few months including a redesign of some of our products and the launch of some new ones. We have a number of exciting projects designed to enhance the value of our newspapers and Web site.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Clothe-A-Child, now in its 35th year, continues to impact the community

This was originally published in The Record.

I found it ironic that no sooner than summer turned to fall this week. a co-worker was outside our building on a 70 degree day getting a tractor mounted with a small plow ready for winter. And none-to-soon, because we all know the weather follows no calendar when determining when to blanket the region with the white stuff; the first snowfall could be just a few weeks away.

Sue Chasney is another individual on our staff who could be found thinking about winter this week as well. In addition to her role in our newsroom, Sue is returning as coordinator of our Clothe the Child program, now its 35th year. The effort, which raises money to buy winter clothing for children from needy families, requires some planning as we head into the final quarter of the year.

The program is pretty straightforward. The Record raises money from the community to purchase the clothing. Some 30 organizations bring forward the names of prospective recipients. The groups – from area schools to non-profits such as Unity House - also help solicit volunteers to help recipient families shop at discount department stores. Currently, the spending limit is $100 per child.

The program’s impact is bigger than one might think. Some parents tell Sue the clothing is the only “present” the child will receive that holiday season. A child’s self-esteem gets a little boost when they go back from winter break wearing brand new clothes like the kids from better-off families. Teachers tell us kids do come to school inadequately dressed to protect them from the cold and these clothes do help. And shopping volunteers return year-after-year because they enjoy witnessing the impact of their gesture – and that of the donors - on these young lives.

We haven’t created an exact tally – maybe someday we will – of all the children impact and funds raised over the years. But we do know that local residents have given many hundreds of thousands of dollars to this cause. That Clothe the Child has impacted thousands of families. And that 100 percent of all monies received have gone to purchase clothing; administrative costs are borne by The Record.

Recently we received our largest donation ever, a gift of stock and cash from an estate worth approximately $24,000. In addition, the Troy Turkey Trot has named Clothe the Child a named charity for the second consecutive year. And we know we can count on organizations such as R.P.I.; for years, students, faculty and staff have held countless fundraisers for the cause.
But we do need more help. If your club, workplace, classroom, fraternity or sorority, scout troop, church or family is looking to raise money for a good cause, we would ask that you keep Clothe the Child in mind as the holidays approach. Jars of pennies, spare change from bottle drives, large checks and small denomination bills are all welcome and all have a real impact.

Folks who are seeking winter clothing should contact a local social service agency for more information on how they can be considered for the program; The Record does not accept applications. We do accept donor questions, however. For more information, contact Sue Chasney at 270-1280.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Record is publishing more 'good news' than ever

Those of us who are old enough to remember growing up in our neighborhood where everyone knew everybody, most news that our industry today calls “hyper-local” traveled via conversations across backyard fences: Who was promoted at work, who was accepted to what college or joined the military, and who started their own business.

Today, Americans are much more mobile, and with hectic work-life schedules and suburban neighborhood designs that promote isolation, a lot less interaction occurs on the streets we live on. It may take us months or even years to meet those “new” neighbors down the street, and as much or more time may pass to learn word-of-mouth that a new deli has opened across town.

In the wake of these fundamental changes to our communities, weekly newspapers have sprung up across the U.S. “They showcase the goods things going on schools and community institutions, and zero in on an interesting people, in a way daily newspaper cannot,” observes Lisa Lewis, editor of The Record. “It is an opportunity for people to reconnect with their communities.”

To that end, we have expanded our product portfolio in the past year to include three weekly newspapers. The first, Greenbush Life, celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. It, along with Latham Life, founded in February, focus on two large suburbs in our region. The third, River Life, launched in April, serves smaller communities; Mechanicville, Stillwater and Waterford.

Two of weekly newspaper editors reflected this week on the weeklies’ first year and reported they find the job – and the community feedback – rewarding.

Greenbush Life Editor Jennifer E. O'Brien, a former high school and college English teacher, says the “the memorable stories are always the ones that can help someone else. Last fall, we did a feature on the annual JDRF walk; it was inspiring to meet the children and their families.”
She adds, “Residents really seem to enjoy reading stories about their community and recognizing familiar faces in the photo pages.”

Rebecca Eppelmann, editor of Latham Life, says “two of my most memorable interviews have both been Siena (College) professors. One wrote a book and another was working on a research project. The passion with which both spoke struck me as awe inspiring. Anytime I can share with the community the story of those who clearly love what they do, it's a great day for me. “The community has really embraced Latham Life,” she continues. “Not only have I received calls and notes from readers saying how much the like the paper, but in my opinion the best feedback the community has given is by becoming patrons of the local businesses we've profiled. The community is reading and reacting in a very positive way.

These newspapers are still evolving. There are plans to integrate more local school and recreational league sports coverage, incorporate more interaction from the community – including teenagers – and to introduce more news from school and municipal boards.

The Record is publishing more “good news” than ever with the addition of these products. And from what we have heard, that has been received as, well, good news by the communities we serve.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

RPI scores big with new athletic facility

This originally appeared in The Record.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is heading into the final stretch of the first phase of its $114 million East Campus Athletic Village. I recently had a chance to tour the complex and I’m excited for a bunch of reasons.

First is the scope of the project. How many upstate New York communities would give its proverbial eye teeth for an economic development project of this magnitude? What might this lead to down the road? (Hint: Look no further than SUNY-Cortland, which has attracted the NY Jets summer training camp and Empire State Games, among other events, since opening a new sports complex in 2002.) What might this development mean for existing and local businesses? (Another hint: Check out the RPI-themed new Hilton on Hoosick Street if you haven’t already.) And finally, you have to admire the boldness with which RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson’s administration stuck with the project through a recession.

Second is the impact that this endeavor will have on the RPI community – faculty, staff, student-athletes and alumni. A little more swagger on the field and the court playing in one of the best Division III athletic facilities in the country. A little more inspiration off the field – the strength and conditioning area has an eye-level sweeping view of the stadium turf. There will be more excitement for fans in the stands; the setting is first class and feels more Division 1-AA than Division III. And the expansion will provide more opportunities for intramural participants – which represent nearly three-quarters of the student body. All of this adds up to a lot more “wow” in putting the school’s best foot forward in its recruiting efforts.

Third, this is a great moment for The Record as well. This event allows us an opportunity to present this milestone in a way that only your hometown newspaper can.

We will present several commemorative projects during the fall:

A special section on the new stadium and this year’s football team publishes Sept. 12, the day of the first home game; a broader look at the entire East Campus Athletic Village project will appear in a second commemorative special section in the Oct. 3 issue of The Record, the day of the grand opening and homecoming football game.

Both of those publications will be printed on brighter, heavier newsprint. The Oct. 3 edition will also include a free, two-sided glossy commemorative poster shot by our photography staff. And expect expanded news, sports and photo packages the day after both events.

I want to give a quick shout out to the local business owners who have joined us in celebrating the achievement by helping underwrite the efforts. Look for their ads in each section and tell them “thank you” as well. (The first issue deadlines early this week; please call me Monday at 270-1206 if you’re interested.)

RPI has scored a terrific achievement for the campus community and the entire region. There are a lot of reasons to give pause to celebration and we look forward to the party.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My calendar is marked. Mark yours, too.

This was originally published in The Record

The newspaper industry has been the subject of more headlines this year than at any time in my career. Some of that is due to the proliferation of new media outlets that report on business issues. But much of the reason is the industry has been raked through the economic coals of this recession. Hey, the media loves bad news. The closing of the Ann Arbor News in July after nearly 175 years in operation was the latest in a series of recent setbacks including bankruptcies, layoffs, retrenchments and closings that drew attention.

So it is understandable if many people have drawn the conclusion that newspapers are on life support and are about to be put out of their misery. Yet there is evidence that the tide has turned, evidenced in part by the work of a research and consulting firm called Borrell Associates. The company – which focuses on interactive marketing but which works with traditional media as well – tracks local advertising.

According to a Borrell report released this month, the decline in newspaper industry revenues will abate after this year, with a 2.4 percent rebound in 2010. Further, it says by 2014, newspaper income will be up 8.7 percent over 2009.

While no industry executive is going to take this projection to the bank, I suspect there was a collective sign of relief when the report was released. The outlook mirrors what many newspaper company executives have been saying, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. But Borrell has a good forecasting track record; it correctly called the severe, long slide of newspaper revenues of the past eight years when newspaper revenue as at an all-time high in 2001. If we had only listened.

Borrell’s report points to the history of radio, which rebounded after struggling with the advent of television in the 1950s, as “a historical reference point”. The medium lost market share but continued to thrive for nearly a half century.

The study is quick to note that the recovery won’t be equal among daily newspapers – that metro markets will have a tougher time – and that the transition requires some tinkering with products and marketing. Newspapers are increasingly focusing on the most highly-educated and highest-income of readers. The industry is making product changes – using more color and devoting less space to world and national news. And newspapers are getting better at focusing on advertising customers’ and readers’ needs.

The report also states that while all traditional media is under siege – newspapers will recover faster than radio, television, direct mail, magazines and yellow page directories because it was the first to be forced into “a period of adjustment” as a result of the Internet. “Now they are scrambling to cope with fundamental changes in their business models, hoping to take some lessons from newspapers,” the report states.

Gordon Borrell issued the following challenge to readers of the report: “We may be dead wrong. The entire industry might die, and scores of papers might go belly-up over the next year. I’d like you to mark your calendar for today’s date, 2010, and see if that’s the case, or if we wound up being right.”

My calendar is marked. Mark yours, too, and we’ll revisit his predictions in a year.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Compliments, announcements & promotions, oh my!

This first appeared in The Record.

We recently received a compliment from another local media outlet. We’ll graciously accept it and use the opportunity to make a few related announcements.

First the recognition: The staff of Metroland, in its Best of the Region edition on July 16, cited The Record as having the best local sports coverage among local media. This is the second time in three years the sports department has been cited;

“The Record gives a lot of real estate - in newspapers, ‘real estate’ means pages - to sports,” Metroland reported. “And a big share of this is in-depth coverage of local sports: high school, college, minor league baseball and hockey, you name it. Being able to devote your back page to a dynamic sports photo every day doesn’t hurt, either.”

Not too shabby. Thanks Metroland! We’re very proud of the team here too, which includes six full-timers - sports editor Kevin Moran and assistant sports editor Tim Martin, and staff writers Chris Fitz Gerald, Will Montgomery, Andrew Santillo, and Ed Weaver – as well as some stringers. And I would be remiss if we didn’t add the names of Jim Carras, Tom Killips and Mike McMahon – our very experienced (more than 85 years at the paper between the three of them) and very talented photo staff whose work on the back cover was referenced by the alternative paper.

One of the very cool – and very unusual in our business – aspects of our staff is their local ties. Five of the aforementioned writers grew up in the area: Fitz Gerald in Scotia, Montgomery in Burnt Hills, Martin in Hudsonx, Moran in Waterline, and Santillo in Niskayuna. Weaver is a native of the Elmira area.

Moran says that the local connections ensure the staff is very sensitive and responsive to covering the local sports scene as broadly and deeply as possible. “My philosophy is to cover every event no matter how small. We can’t get to every 8- or 9-year old Little League game. But we know our readers are only going to get the kind of local coverage in The Record that we do so we try to cover every local team and athlete we can.”

And now, a segue to a few developments at The Record we feel will serve readers well:

  • The first is we would like to announce that McMahon, who has been with us 33 years, has been promoted to the executive chief photographer. Previously he served as chief photographer at The Record. He now oversees the photo staff of both our paper and our sister paper, The Saratogian. Mike will continue to shoot and be present in our newsroom just about as much as he has in the past, but will now work with both staffs on scheduling, overseeing quality control and training. He will help us continue to evolve in our ability to delivery local news and sports videos on our Web sites as well.
  • They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The paper is in development of a Reader’s Choice Awards which will be unveiled this fall. It is kinda, sorta similar to Metroland’s “Best of” effort, but frankly this is not the purview of any one publication - it is a staple of hundreds of newspapers across the country. It seemed to us that more of the businesses and institutions in our readership area deserved recognition than afforded by similar efforts of other publications that cast a much wider net. Look for ballots in The Record and our weekly publications soon.
  • Last, but certainly not least … Look for The Record’s 2009 High School Football Preview section the first week in September. Kevin and his staff will be publishing previews and schedules for each of 21 schools in our readership area. This is something we haven’t done in a few years but, as the paper with the title of “best sports coverage”, it is only apropos it return.

If that is not enough, we’ll be unveiling more sports- and non-sports related projects as we head into fall. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Despite rumors, newspapers remain vital to communities they serve

This originally appeared in The Record.

“I think I’ve timed this moment perfectly. Think about it: I’m on a last place network, I moved to a state that’s bankrupt, and tonight show’s is sponsored by General Motors.”

- Conan O’Brien, excerpt from his monologue June 1 as the new host of “The Tonight Show”.

The first thought that entered my head as I was named publisher of The Record recently was O’Brien’s monologue. The similarities between late night TV and newspapers are broad in the respect that this is an interesting time for all media.

And both Conan and I have spent a career in preparation for a long-sought gig, even if a few zeros separate his salary from mine. Having said that:

• I am not working for the last-placed anything by any means but the newspaper industry has been getting some bad press lately. Much of it is self-inflicted. (More on both the last-place and self-inflicted comments in future columns.)
• We all know the precarious situation of New York’s finances but I didn’t move to the state; I am a life-long resident. But the comment does remind one of the contentious economic times we are in.
• I wish our newspaper was sponsored by General Motors. The truth is car companies – and car dealers – are cutting back on both traditional and “new” media advertising.

So, naturally some people have asked with the state of the industry, why did I make a career move now? As someone whose last name is Murphy, as in Murphy’s Law, I can appreciate the irony. A glance at my career sheds some light.

Having possessed a wee bit of writing talent and few other options coming out of college with a degree in political science a couple of recessions ago, I was quick to say yes to an offer from the editor of my hometown paper, the Oneida Daily Dispatch, to freelance write. Six weeks later they offered me a staff writing job for all of $150 a week, and after another six weeks went by, a stint as sports editor. My career was off-and-running; I quickly became enamored with the profession.

During my days in the newsroom I saw how inextricably the life of so much of the community was tied to the newspaper: Upstart politicians seeking to gain some notoriety. Church supper organizers hoping to draw a wider audience for an Election Night dinner. Frustrated taxpayers looking to have a voice in the political debate. Proud parents basking in the attention earned by notice of their child’s athletic, musical or academic accomplishments. Grieving family members taking some solace in an obituary detailing a life lived well. And on and on – day in and day out.

Later in my career, I moved to the advertising side of our business and discovered the similar impact. Business owners set aside money they could use to fund their 401k or invest in inventory to instead advertise with us in the hopes of maintaining and growing their revenue and customer base. I have seen innumerable businesses thrive and prosper from being regular newspaper advertisers because of all media, we have the best quality and quantity of reach, and we are the ad source used far more than any other by consumers to make local shopping decisions.

So, despite rumors of our demise, I emphatically believe newspapers remain extremely vital to the communities in which they reside – particularly those of our size. The industry is evolving for a myriad of reasons including rapid changes in technology, costs (newsprint and health care, to name two), and the rise of new competitors, among others. And readers’ needs are changing – some read us more than ever (because our product mix has grown), some want more targeted information from us (hence the rise of our three weekly newspapers), and some want more customized and timely information (thus our 24-hour-coverage online now).

Back to the monologue analogy: I did come to this position at a challenging time. But there are challenges all around us. The Record has plenty of company among local businesses who face new threats (and opportunities). But I also come very much energized at being a party to what is certainly the most transformational age in the history of newspapers since the invention of moveable type. It is an exciting time and the glass is half full – those newspapers that embrace and help shape the new order will thrive alongside the communities they serve.

The author is the new publisher of the Troy Record. This is his debut column; it will appear every other Sunday.