Archive for March, 2010

Changing times brings a change at Times

March 24, 2010

Today, the other shoe that I had been waiting to drop for over a dozen years, dropped in Vinton.

The Cedar Valley Daily Times announced today that the “daily” part of the equation was now gone. Beginning April 9, the Times will become a Friday only publication, while the publication that I am forever proud to say my wife and I founded five years ago, The Vinton Eagle will publish on Tuesdays. This new combination of my journalism model will give Vinton and the surrounding area a great twin-weekly news summary delivery source.

And, it will end a model that had long ago lost its luster.

Don’t get me wrong; I loved the CVDT, in its day. I grew up reading it, started my journalism career there in 1982 and had the honor of being the sports editor there for six and a half years. Ah, those were the days!

From 1989 through 1997, we were quite a team. I did sports, Dan Adix did great news coverage and incredible pictures, while Doug Lindner served as associate publisher, wrote, reported and steered the ship. For most of those years, the late Dick Hogan was our publisher and Faith Brown was our editor. And the true leader of our little family, Becky Cottrell, kept us all in line. We were quite a team.

Five days a week, we would hit office by 7:30 in the morning. Bob Lutz would have already been there for an hour and the coffee was already made. Dan would develop film and print photos all morning, while we would write and write and write. In the back, Mary Robinson, Susan Meyer and several others would crank out ads Mert Alpers sold, while Gene Deterding, Mike Bruce and press crew would get the presses rolling.

By 1:00 we’d be on the presses and by the time most of Vinton and surrounding area had arrived home from work, there was a CVDT on the front step with that day’s news in it.

We didn’t use wire copy and sometimes had to stretch to fill space, but we did it. It was a lot of long hours and a lot of stress, but it was also an incredible experience and one I look back at with both pleasure and pride.

But even then we could see it coming. As a business model, a local daily newspaper in a market this size was becoming more and more difficult to justify. Faith moved on in 1994 and we lost Dick in 1995. Then, in January of 1997, the head of Mid-American publishing, David Archie, passed away. By the time Angie and I moved to Kansas in March of that year, we had already heard rumblings of a sale.

When Community Media Group bought the CVDT in the summer 1997, cut staff and removed the presses, we assumed then it would become a weekly. But it didn’t. Wire copy came back and local news – the news we used to have on the street on the day it happened – wasn’t showing up for a couple days. The subscriber based dwindled and by the time we moved back in 2004, there was nearly a news vacuum.

It was because of that that Angie and I created The Eagle. We wanted to fill the vacuum with a weekly product that would combine the local angle that I learned so well in the glory days of the CVDT with a weekly model that people wanted to read.

Our immediate success in readership and popularity in the community told us we were doing it right. And now, with CMG’s recent purchase of The Eagle, our model has come full circle.

Angie and I are obviously pleased to see that our pride and joy, The Eagle, will go on, and equally pleased that the Times will as well, just under that weekly model. I will always look back with great pride at what we did in those days of glory. But I also look at those as days gone by.

It’s like looking back at high school; we will always take pride in what we did and fondly remember what we did in those days. But times change, and change is what life is all about. I will miss the Cedar Valley Daily Times, but the one I will miss the most is the one I grew up with and worked at.

Times change; now the Times has changed. And it is time. It was an honor to be a part of that, just as it is an honor to have founded The Eagle. And we look forward to the future of both.

A statement from the real founder of The Vinton Eagle

March 3, 2010

Vinton’s local rumor mill was going full speed Tuesday when the news broke throughout the community that The Vinton Eagle – the newspaper that my wife and I created from scratch in 2005 – had been sold to its archrival, the Community Media Group, better known locally as the Cedar Valley Daily Times and Vinton Livewire.

Three or four years ago, this news would have been personally devastating to us. After all, we brought the Eagle into existence five years ago because so much of the community was dissatisfied with the local coverage the Times was offering.

But now, literally two years to the day since Angie and I (and my mother, who had worked for us three years for free) were summarily removed from our positions at the Eagle, this news was welcomed. After two years of watching the Eagle go increasingly off-course, it will survive.

I was never a businessman; I acknowledge that fully. I was journalist. But over time, I brought in partners who came in with the idea that they would handle the business end of things while leaving the journalism decisions to Angie and me and our staff.

But somewhere along the way, things changed. While between us, Angie and I had nearly 40 years of journalism experience, that became secondary to our partners who had more years of experience – as readers, we were told. Soon, every decision we made was open for discussion.

I endorsed a candidate for president in my column who my partners didn’t support for various reasons. I recognized the importance of sports to our readership, despite the fact that my partners’ friends didn’t like sports. I refused to write fluff pieces for certain businesses with the hope that they might advertise with us. At one point, our morals and ethics were questioned because of our religious and political beliefs and the way we were raised. My free time also came under fire as I coached our high school’s struggling swimming programs.

And while all of this was going on, I was beginning to see the handwriting on the wall for the newspaper business. The declining economy was especially tough on small businesses. And when things get tight financially for small businesses, one of the first things to get cut is advertising. Advertising is what drives the newspaper industry, and local advertisers were afraid to change what they had been doing.

So I began actively searching for either investors with deep pockets or outright buyers for the Eagle who would allow us to continue to operate in the way our readers wanted us to. While there was interest, the faltering U.S. economy going into 2008 also affected these potential investors. A couple said “get back to us in a year…,” but that is as close as it came. At one point, I even approached CMG about it, but they were not interested.

In early 2008, we were thrown another curve. Marengo Publishing, the printing plant we had used since our inception, had to change its printing schedule. Suddenly, we were faced with the possibility that we would have to move the Eagle’s publication from Wednesday to Friday. So, I began a search for another printing plant. I spent the better part of two weeks researching the situation, looking at costs, production times and delivery and prepared a report I presented the morning of Tuesday, March 4, 2008.

But the meeting turned out vastly different. Instead of discussing printing options, I was presented with a letter from my partners that, in effect fired me as publisher, while I retained my 40 percent ownership in the company. Among the reasons cited, it informed me that my compensation for being the founder, publisher and editor of the Eagle was too high – even though part of it was for my wife, who worked 20 hours a week designing pages on top of her full-time job.

Within 24 hours of our dismissal, our personal desks were cleaned out and the contents thrown into boxes. And the locks to building were changed.

I tried to convince my partners that we still needed to look into a sale, before our losses got any bigger, but they did not want to listen. They were still convinced that removing me as publisher would have investors and advertisers lined up at the front door; it was just a matter of time.

In the meantime, Angie and I moved on. I began graduate school. For some time, we looked very strongly at moving back to Kansas and just forgetting the whole thing. And, after six months of watching the Eagle we built go off in another direction, we signed over our shares in the Eagle in September 2008.

Over the last year and a half, it was apparent the Eagle was not growing as anticipated. There were fewer and fewer ads. The supposedly crippling cost of my compensation suddenly went by the boards as three more people were hired to do the jobs Angie, my mother and I did for a lot less money.

When I heard the news about the sale to the Times, I was at once relieved, but not at all surprised. I was sorry to see that some of the people who had started with us at the Eagle in 2005 had lost their jobs and had been pretty much blindsided with the news. But, as I was once told, it was nothing personal, it was just business.

But I was also relieved to know that The Vinton Eagle will have the support and the resources to go forward.

For Angie and me there is a touch of irony in what has transpired, but at the same time we are pleased to see that the paper we poured so much of our lives into will have a chance to survive.