Vail Daily Editor and Publisher Don Rogers: Easy to overlook the obvious in our business
March 21, 2013
Maybe you can help us.
When it comes to the business of our business, it’s not too early to begin planning for 2014 and beyond.
In the newsroom, I can see our sports editor already trembling over 2015, remembering the coverage challenges for a sports staff of three in 1999. Today it’s just him and help he can beg, borrow and draft for bigger events.
I asked him to start sketching the plan out based on what he knows and can project. The Americans are good now, so add that happy fact to the challenge. We’ll pore over it and figure out how to best deploy the all hands we’ll have on deck for that.
Meantime, what we’re learning with multimedia coverage now surely will pay off in ways not seen in 1999.
Mostly, we’re performing without a net. The recession took any semblance of that away.
And so it is with the business. This week I made the staff earn their lunch, since I’m not above a little bribery to come listen to the publisher wax on about sales and bottom lines and various challenges that went well beyond my comparatively narrow interests as a news guy. Those were: Is the business good enough to add staff and ask for raises, or bad enough that we’re saving pencils to the nub and thinking about layoffs? In between? OK then.
I still remember glazing over through these things, at least during the boom.
So now that I’m the guy boring the crap out of everyone, I try to keep it short and real. I figure everyone does best without sugarcoating when the news is tough, as it was during the collapse. And I know I’ll be more believed when just the facts of successes in the biz go unburnished and unhyped. Sigh, think Lou Grant trying to sell something. Best I stick with reality and leave the schtick to the pros.
While like you, we’re not running at exactly the Olympian heights of 2007, the recovery has been mostly on for us. We’re a bit ahead of most peers by most measurements, and we have reason to view the future optimistically, with all due respect to Cyprus.
Still, we’re well aware that a volatile economy remains a threat to our business, along with drought, competition, the advent of the digital age and ourselves if we fail to keep learning, adapting and improving our work.
If you’ve ever done a “SWOT” analysis, now you know how I made the crew earn their lunch. The paragraph above summarizes the big T, for threats to our business.
Fortunately, we have real strengths, too. Our core product and service is dominant, and our little fleet of niche publications and digital tools are competitive in each of their categories. We have a good brand. We have the strongest staff in the history of the Vail Daily, I believe, in part from the recession forcing us to trim and preventing easy movement to jobs that at least for now don’t exist in our industry.
I listed two subjective statements that we believe to be true: We’re nimble and opportunistic within the context of newspapers (low bar?), and this staff shows the ability to keep learning and evolving. Those two points are huge.
Weaknesses? Alas, plenty and we’re hardly alone in these times, but there’s an awful lot to do and not quite enough people to do it all, at least not to the level we wish. Pay is too low and of course we’re in the communications business, so we don’t do nearly enough of that among ourselves. Some of our systems are clunky, and we’re about to address the flint-and-stone technology we’ve been using with all new stuff this spring.
Meantime, opportunity abounds with the local economy’s recovery taking firmer hold. The tourist-oriented businesses have been on a general upswing for a couple of years now, and the real estate sector appears to be at least starting to improve. Development remains deader than a doorknob, but note the developers gaining government approvals now for if/when conditions ripen for them.
I’m told often that my glasses are way too rose-colored, but I do think another development boom is looming in our valley. Are there lessons we can collectively apply to handle this one better than we handled the last one, and its aftermath?
My son gave me this metaphor for the Vail Daily as a business: The core daily is an aircraft carrier, and in this ocean nothing is more powerful or dominant. But it’s not necessarily nimble, and it can be sunk. Aircraft carriers need fleets of more nimble craft to carry out their missions fully. And they are force extenders, bearing aircraft and Marines to do their special jobs, along with battleships and submarines and such to do theirs.
My outlook may be a little competitive, with maybe too combative a metaphor for a business whose mission is community service at root. A better informed and engaged community with thriving businesses and healthy service organizations through our help leads inevitably to a higher quality of life here. That’s why we exist. It’s not because we’re a business – that’s simply fuel for the engine powering the services. Only, that engine ain’t running when it’s out of gas.
The better we fulfill our mission for the community, the stronger our business will be, and vice versa. And of course, the two need to stay in balance. Too much community and we can sink the biz. Too much emphasis on the business, and we lose our value that makes the business possible.
So there’s plenty to keep us up at night, and lots of good reason to think out as far as we can to anticipate what’s ahead.
Our sports editor is planning now for 2015.
Believe me, so am I.
Part of that is figuring out how to better understand you, your interests and needs, along with what keeps you up at night. My business tomes call that market research. I call it the key to everything.
Funny how easily we forget while caught up in aircraft carrier metaphors, SWOT discussions and grand ideas about new lines of services.
None of that matters if we overlook the obvious, which is you.
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2920.