D.R.: Trails good month
I was stunned. First at myself with this newfound interest in monthly financial reports beyond seeing how much trouble Im in for editorial spending compared to the ol budget. I aint exactly Mr. Business or Mr. Numbers. And second, when I saw that our sales staff did a whale of a job for the Vail Trail in February. There might be some hope for us yet, if we can keep that ball rolling.I counted on paying the price while we slowly, more or less steadily, began adding features that will eventually define the Trail that were trying to build and move other features to the Vail Dailys arts and living section where they are a much better fit for our readership there. The current Arts and Entertainment section will become High Life on Friday, which just means that were broadening the scope of the section beyond entertainment while retaining the go and do aspect of it. I figured wed have the Trail running at a loss during this transition, praying the dip wouldnt last too long and the business side of our biz would pick up before the executives gave up on the whole experiment altogether. Not that theyve shown any sign of that in the years since the Daily bought the Trail, which otherwise would have closed a few years ago now.But wonder of wonders, the sales staff pulled off a February miracle. Display ad sales came in ahead of budget by nearly a quarter. The little paper that wouldnt die made some money. Its pocket change compared to even the Daily, but its the hope of the fact of this thats important. At least to me.Newspaper life swings up and down, from day to day, week to week and each month when those damn reports come out. So you cant get too high or low on each report. Its the trend that matters.Still, Im feeling not only appreciative of the hard work Trail Editor Randy Wyrick and Production Manager Amanda Swanson are putting in, but really grateful to the ad staff. But, shhhh. Dont tell em. It would most definitely ruin my carefully built reputation if they knew.Oh, heres a look at some of our plans for the Vail Trail of the future. Please dont hesitate to give me your feedback: Vail Trail editorial plan We believe the best answer for the Vail Trail is back to the future. That is, a newsweekly aimed squarely at our biggest niche audience that takes full advantage of our overall strengths as an organization. This is the same niche the Trail had a decade ago when it was successful, and the Daily was doing very well, too. Its also a niche we are leaving wide open for a competitor to take – with evidence for success in the old Trail and todays Aspen Times Weekly. The Trail can and should have the same heft as Aspens weekly, if we can do it right. We think we can do it better than that, actually. This niche – the wealthiest 2 percent in the nation who live or have second homes here – continues to grow here rather than shrink. The demographic data suggests strongly that the peak of this tide wont arrive for five to 10 years. The wealthiest 1 percent in the nation earn $400,000 and higher a year. And, of course, they make up a much greater share of the people who live and visit here. They are bright, still relatively young, active, fit and interested not only in the Vail area for recreation and lifestyle, but in their investment in homes worth millions of dollars. They read the Daily, sure, but the evidence in Aspen today and here in the past shows they would also read a well-put-together newsweekly thats tailored directly to their interests and aims to speak in their voice. So were thinking along the lines of Newsweek or Time. Newsweek even has an insert called Enterprise in copies sent only to a higher income set. This simply is the plan for coverage and operation of the Trail as a newsweekly. We write this plan assuming that it will become part of a larger business and marketing plan. We believe marketing is a crucial part of the Trails future success.Tone Smart, clean, intellectually challenging (in the best ways!), witty, easy to absorb and fun. These are folks who can appreciate the New York Phil AND Bob Dylan. They have to feel this pub and Web site are tailor made for them. Writing voice is clever, maybe even literary, and a little smart-alecky in an essay sort of way. Most of the readership should be baby boomers who have been successful and in some ways refuse to grow up. The cultural touchstones in coverage should be boomer and edging to Gen X. A draft format:Briefly: 1-3 pages. Condensed roundup of the weeks news and useful information. Take from Daily, EVE, sister papers. Photos, graphics where that works. Very brief, easy to read and rewritten ideally with some wit and voice.In-Depth: Enterprise, cover story that brings context to the issues of the day. Can also lead an issues theme that can be followed through the departments. Departments: Modeled after the news weeklies. Examples: Politics, News, Culture, Outdoors, Indoors, Recreation, Health, History (including pages from the past), Fitness, Philanthropy (as news), History, Economy, Developments, Fashion, Arts, Travel, Shopping … . When we theme large issues: We could do the shorter stories and visuals that fit the theme, and label accordingly to subject. The departments would not necessarily show up in every issue. Opinion: We target for this audience, obviously. Choose columnists from and for this pool. Editorialize from their point of view and in their interest, although of course we would challenge them. Run letters in very brief form from other publications that apply to this readership.How to: Like this to be image-graphic heavy. Tips for how to do some aspect of skiing better, choose a property management firm, make a sure-fire gourmet meal, fashion, exercise, eat healthier, choose the best car for them, and so on. (Focus on ideas that can be done in largely chart form.)People: Short Q&A, society pics and column, profile, that sort of thing. Last Look: The remarkable story-telling photo or story in chart form that kicks out with something that leaves a lasting memory, often humorous but thought-provoking in any case. Could be that great powder shot, too.Staffing Some highlights:Don Rogers, managing editor: As overall editor for One Newsroom, oversees and helps set editorial budget and direction. Will help edit stories and proofs. Write commentary. Matt Zalaznick, AME: The assistant managing editor responsible for coordinating coverage between Dailys local-regional news report and other sections and publications, including the Trail. Randy Wyrick, Trail editor: The heavy daily lifting for each edition of the Trail. Bulk of editing, assigning, and writing.Amanda Swanson, Trail production manager, Web editor: Design and layout, along with those myriad things that go into executing the weekly plan into publication. She is the glue.Trail-first writer to be hired: Clever writer with talent for analysis and global perspective. Must be enterprise-oriented and able to see interesting connections where perhaps others dont.Pool for reporting, photography and graphics: Pull cover stories, specialty features and art from the One Newsroom on a regularly assigned basis. Trail editor works closely with Matt and the section editors to keep this flow orderly. Design changes It will take time for the readers and advertisers to truly notice and believe in the new track. Until recently, the Trail was rather infamous for talking up big changes and not following through, instead producing a bi-polar alt AND vestigial elements of a Trail geared to an old readership. The result was a gradual waning and dilution into a publication plowing the same ground as the Daily. (Anecdotal reader response to the Trail of recent months suggests there indeed is enthusiasm for a truer alt publication; we just dont think its name is the Trail.) This time lag can work to our favor with a quick but soft changeover in direction. At first we keep the same architecture and simply change the page organization, which will be challenging enough on a stopwatch. This would position us for the redesign not far down the road. And we could move quickly to an interim design scheme that better speaks to higher-end newsweekly but isnt the final design either. In any case, lets not let the design hurdle hold up progress with the content and One Newsroom push thats interwoven with the Trail. We would like to go to the same shape and size as the Aspen Times Weekly. The shape of the publication and quality of the newsprint appear to help their newsweekly stand out. We think the feel of the new Trail should be very clean, uncluttered and distinctive – particularly from the Daily. Ideally, this is the place for us to showcase our very best pure writing and photography. Were not merely relating local and regional news in this publication, but connecting it for a bright, curious, active, athletic and already well-informed (not to mention well-educated) readership.GrowthA Vail Trail in step with its historical place in the valleys media should grow from wherever we start with the current Trail. The history of the publication and the current heft of the Aspen Times Weekly suggest this strongly – even with our Mountain Home Weekly real estate guides success and fact that unlike the Aspen weekly, the Trail will not have MHPs lucrative ad market to tap. Still, the Trail of seven-eight years ago reached into the neighborhood of 100-page editions at peak even with a robust Daily and MHP in the same market. The demographic data and observers of Vail Valley trends show that this high-end niche will continue growing as it has been. The peak of second-home buyers is not expected for another five to 10 years. Some stats suggest more than expected of these people are making here their primary residences in active retirement. And of course, we have a fairly high proportion of high-enders fitting this niche who live here permanently. Theres possibly also an aspirational group of people who would gravitate to the Trail as quality newsweekly. If we do it well, all these folks will read the Daily AND the Vail Trail, as they did in the deeper past. The niche is only growing. We just need to match that with the direction and quality of the Trail.
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.