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.