I’m writing this column a few days early for once. It’s not like there’s anything else I’m going to settle on, and who knows what the next few days will bring.
Earlier this week we announced the Courier will soon be shifting to a three-day publishing schedule instead of the five-day schedule we’ve been on for the past 12 years or so. It was six when I got here, back in 2002. There’s a lot that I can say, but it all comes down to one thing:
I came here from a five-day daily in central Missouri. Getting that sixth day of publication was a very real part of the lure this job had. A few years after arriving, I took over most of the work on the Courier’s website from the news side. It wasn’t a question of whether I thought the print edition was unimportant. It was more a matter of being able to see the direction this industry was going. I’m not talking about digital readership as much as the need for reporters themselves to push their skills. It was about finding a new way I could bring value as an employee.
It was clear even then that if all you could do was write, your skill set wouldn’t be enough to protect your job. So I learned how the website worked. I learned a little bit of how to build graphics for the old site, how to put together quick videos and work with audio. I knew that wouldn’t necessarily be enough to guarantee anything, but I hoped it would allow me to land on my feet with a new paper a little more easily.
What it did was put me on track to eventually become the Courier’s editor. The papers I’ve worked at have had some giants in the profession. In Ottumwa it’s A.W. Lee, founder of Lee Enterprises. In Boonville it was Walter Williams, who went to the University of Missouri to found the first journalism school in the world.
That kind of history is something I don’t take lightly. A lot of people have filled this job before me, and it’s my job to do everything I can to ensure people will have it after me. Being editor of a 172-year-old newspaper as it drops to three editions a week doesn’t exactly fit with that view. It’s a punch to the gut, and understanding the economics of the decision doesn’t mean I like it.
This, then, is where that training I got comes into play. People who believe there is anything other than a daily newspaper these days are kidding themselves. There is no excuse for delaying updates when you have a website. There’s no reason not to be updating regularly, to be breaking news and filing stories online.
The standards of this newsroom have not changed. We’re still going to work our tails off. If someone gets beaten on their beat, I’ll still be asking them why. You’ll see new stories when you come to our website, regardless of whether there’s a print edition that day. I still expect our reporters to work hard, and that goes for me, too.
We may be a three-day newspaper now, but by God we’re not going to act like one.
If you talk to people who have known me, inside the newsroom or not, the one thing I’m sure they can tell you is that it’s hard to get me to budge when I decide to dig in my heels. Well, the expectations are clear and my heels are dug in deep.
Let’s go to work.