“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.