The news spread quickly this past summer among colleagues from what’s now a fourth decade in the news business. Some degree of glee was evident from former supervisors, who no doubt were rubbing their hands in anticipation.
“Ron Judd, editor? Welcome to management, buddy!”
Point taken. I confess to not always being the model employee. Early in my career at Washington’s Thickest Newspaper, in Seattle, I managed to con my way out of mandatory “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” training by protesting to HR that the pop office psychology of the time was secular humanism and offensive to my religion.
Shockingly, this worked, which possibly explains my ongoing ineffectiveness in middle age. So it goes.
As expected in taking on this task, herding people I consider to be teammates and peers more than employees has its own learning curve — not unlike drawing up a new publication on a blank sheet of paper. The same goes with forging a new relationship with readers and sources and regularly answering for what appears on our digital and print pages.
Given all that, it seems appropriate, after three months of publication online and two months in print, to pause and ask myself: What have you learned about running a fledgling news organization in Bellingham in 2022?
Our audience is every bit as hungry for a truly local, general-interest news product as we hoped.
While our newspaper both online and in print is still free for an introductory period, a surprisingly large number of readers have already subscribed to receive our print paper in the mail. This is incredibly gratifying to our staff and ownership, and demonstrates that folks are willing to pay for their news as well as support a private local news enterprise. But we have a long ways to go to reach our goal of ultimately becoming self-sustaining.
Few people in our environs are used to being subjects of old-fashioned daily news coverage.
Many private citizens and officials at institutions ranging from businesses to schools have told us they had either fallen out of the habit of communicating directly with reporters, or (sadly) had never developed one during our region’s long local news drought. We get that; we hope that ongoing questions and coverage from our staff will help build constructive, long-term relationships with people in all walks of life. Trust relationships build over time. But we take our journalistic role as a surrogate for the public seriously.
As we hoped, this is a sophisticated readership marketplace.
From our inception, we hoped our newspaper would be catering to a crowd a bit more tuned-in and media-savvy than the audience in many markets, and this has proven true. Readers have kept us on our toes about a broad range of things; they forcefully advance their own ideas about what we should cover, and how. Most of them even seem to understand satire. Big collective pat on the back to our readers.
In spite of all that, many local folks still don’t know who CDN is or what we are about.
It’s understandable. We’re new, and while hobbyist online news sites have proliferated, new actual newspapers don’t come along very often these days. We also have yet to aggressively market the paper in our readership area (although some exciting things are in the works).
Where this can become problematic is when people base their assumptions and desires for our product on assumptions that often are faulty. To clear up a couple of the more common ones:
- We’re a daily news publication that prints weekly, not a weekly publication that happens to have a website. This matters a lot in terms of focus.
- We’re not an alternative weekly, with all that implies. Nothing against alt-weeklies; our target audience — and thus the range of material we publish in terms of both news and editorial content — is much broader than one pinpointed by small publications catering to a generally like-minded readership.
- We welcome suggestions but don’t take orders about what to publish from anyone outside our newsroom. The fact that we are privately owned makes our news decisions no different than those we assume are made every day in other ethically-focused newsrooms, be they in “for-profit” or nonprofit publications.
- On our opinion page — a key feature of our product, given local competition’s abdication of this role — we have and will continue to publish letters and guest commentaries that I, as editor, don’t agree with, and assume most of our staff doesn’t, either. Some of our readers, especially in our largely politically monochrome hometown of Bellingham, have been surprised or indignant that we’ve run guest commentaries they don’t personally agree with. But that’s the entire purpose of an editorial page serving as an open public forum. But we also keep a watchful eye for editing out or rejecting material we can’t verify, or see as obvious misinformation.
- The above philosophy is not only consistent with our mission and principles, but part of our business model, to be a general-interest newspaper. As has been proven in our market and others of comparable size, there simply aren’t enough far-right or far-left local wonks and activists to make an echo-chamber product appealing exclusively to them financially viable. Our goal is long-term community support and viability.
We love “doing the news” and hope you’re having fun taking it all in.
I think everyone in the newsroom relishes the chance to mix the best of old and new journalistic practices to create a new product. And now that we’ve settled into some semblance of a routine, we’ll become more focused on fine-tuning our content, both in subject and form. So keep that feedback coming.
The goal is to keep some startup creativity flowing through our publication’s veins over the long haul. CDN will always remain a work in progress as long as I’m playing manager here. Here’s hoping some other “Habits of Highly Effective People” flow from that one.
Ron Judd's column appears Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: roncjudd