Tuesday, February 12, 2013

With Saturday mail delivery ending, the COURIER moves forward

I’m surprised the post office didn’t kill Saturday delivery sooner. They’re broke. Even though they were hemorrhaging money for the past several years, they needed permission from Congress to make any significant change, and you know what that means…nothing gets done.

We knew it was coming, remain committed to delivering our newspaper through the mail, and have been planning for months the change to delivering a weekly Friday COURIER starting on Friday, March 1.

As owner and publisher, I’m so excited about this change we are throwing a community party on March 7 with the Claremont Chamber of Commerce.

Our attitude was simple. We were not going to wait for USPS to figure out when and how to cut services. That’s why the COURIER staff reviewed every option to sustain a healthy community newspaper, while keeping the high content standards our readers and advertisers expect.

And did we ever come up with a plan!

As mentioned, on March 1 the COURIER will be delivered by the post office to your mailbox on every Friday. The paper will be noticeably thicker as we add pages and color to accommodate a week’s worth of news. We will invest in cleaner, whiter newsprint to make the photography pop, the advertising sing and the text easier to read.

But we are not stopping there. Parts of the newspaper will be redesigned to help guide readers through a larger edition. The calendar will we reworked with new features (this includes a new nightlife column) and more photography. Remember Back Page?  Claremonters like gossip, and we are bringing back this ever-popular column. And there’s more to come.

My point is the COURIER is committed to producing a great community newspaper, we understand our readers and advertisers rely on the print edition and we have no intention of cutting corners…so to speak.

We also realize there are many of you who need your Claremont news 24/7, which is why the daily updates on our website will be a perfect fit. Since some of this content will be published before the print edition, it will stay behind a paywall for subscribers only. If you have a subscription, just create a login and full access is yours. Just like our passion for the print edition, we understand in this full throttle world that expects news published in a timely manner.

But again, we are not stopping there! Our online users will get emails each week with Claremont news highlights with links to the full story on the website. Don’t want them? You can cancel the emails any time. Use a smartphone? Starting in March, check out our new mobile website designed for that little screen. With over 2200 Facebook friends, we will continue to post news links and display our best photos of the week.

Even the way we display photography on the website will be improved. Instead of one photo gallery per print edition, now a gallery will be attached to the end of stories so you can see the images from that particular shoot. Read all about an event…see the photos packaged together with the story.

To continue our focus on helping small businesses, we have created simple, easy to understand online marketing packages to enhance print advertising. Our widely popular online business directory already sends 1300 customers to Claremont businesses a day. And it’s free to register your business.

Don’t have the time to figure out your Internet marketing? We will help you get started and even maintain your presence as one of our customers. The COURIER will remain a key component in helping Claremont businesses succeed. We have done this for decades, and will continue to do so in this ever changing digital age.

I could keep going, but we want to surprise you all as we role out these improvements next month. I also realize in this day, change can be scary and create gloom about the future. But even as other newspapers struggle, the COURIER will continue to prosper as one of the best community newspaper companies in the country.

From the staff and myself, we want to thank you for all your support and good wishes.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ruth Bobo connected with so many who grew up in Claremont

When I first heard we were going to interview Ruth Bobo for a story in today’s edition about efforts to raise money for her healthcare costs, I jumped at the chance to see her again.

During my illustrious career at Claremont High School from 1970 to 1974, I was a student of Mrs. Bobo’s on 2 separate occasions. I vividly remember my senior year, when she gently pushed and creatively motivated me into learning the nuances of the English language. It was critical for my development, since I was off to college the next year and really needed to hone my writing skills. Even though I would later have a career as a professional photographer, this is when I first started writing columns for the school newspaper.

Based on what you are reading here today, I like to think she was successful.

I clearly remember the skills Mrs. Bobo used to connect with students. It’s like she instantly knew what made you tick. She recognized my skills as a photographer, yet kept emphasizing how journalism needed to be an important skill set, too. I was also a gregarious gent, who liked to chitchat with the girls. I remember being moved around the classroom several times so she could keep a keen eye on me (and shut me up).

There are hundreds of examples like mine, where Mrs. Bobo contributed to the development of young adults for 4 decades. She gave so much of herself.
But on top of these fond memories, the healthcare issues Mrs. Bobo faces in 2012 also touch a very sensitive and important area for my family.

As I’ve stated in previous columns, my parents went through a very similar issue where the costs of healthcare were like quicksand—draining entire life savings just to stay healthy and maintain some sort of quality of life. This has influenced the way I view the world, and how I vote, and is motivation to help others who lost jobs, which basically means losing healthcare insurance.

Mrs. Bobo is really lucky she has an advocate in Arin Allen. He and the Bobo family have made it their personal goal to make sure Mrs. Bobo will continue to have a quality life, no matter what healthcare hurdles are placed in front of her. It won’t be easy, but in this day, anything is possible. It’s also a classic case how one person can make a huge impact on the lives of others.

With all the people in Claremont and beyond who know and love Mrs. Bobo, I have a feeling the future will be bright for her and her family.

As I left Mrs. Bobo’s house after our interview, she turned and said how she enjoyed my writing in the newspaper. I got chills as if it were 1974 again, where my English teacher just complimented my work.
I will always remember Ruth Bobo.

Marching to the community newspaper tune

What do you get when there are 150 community newspaper publishers in one room? 

Two great ideas.

I attended my first National Newspaper Association (NNA) annual conference last week in Charleston, South Carolina. Being it was kind of a nice city to visit, that’s the excuse I gave to my wife as to why I wanted to attend. I also thought it was time to mingle not only with other leaders in the industry, but with people who publish newspapers just like the COURIER.

The conference started with some larger general meetings, but it was the smaller breakout sessions that covered key topics like news content (especially city and school affairs), increasing advertising revenue, circulation tips, selling to new customers, online marketing and, of course, the biggie, United States Post Office regulations. Vendors from all over the country were on hand, selling printing and graphics software to canned editorial content that looked like it was local news.

Even the post office had a booth. I walked up to the lady there and asked her if the attendees were being nice (just about every community newspaper publisher has issues with USPS.) She said for the most part people were respectful and then happily showed me their updated website with new information on postal regulations.

When I asked whether they had any plans to show the website to local postmasters, who have a nationwide reputation for not knowing postal regulations for newspapers, the smile from her face vanished as she pushed the computer screen away. From then on, questions about the future of Saturday delivery, or price increases, were met with a grouchy “no comment.”
Guess my work was done here.

Even with all the tough business news for the newspaper industry over the past few years, the mood of the participants was very good. Like the COURIER, a large percentage of community newspapers are doing quite well because of their niche content. And many of these papers serve communities smaller than Claremont.

I’ve always said a local newspaper can be the best gauge of how the economy is doing, because advertisers are the small businesses that fuel the economy. Business in small town America has improved. I can say for us, this is clearly the case, even though we had lean times like most businesses during the recession.

But that doesn’t mean community newspapers have not had to change and adapt. All have websites at varying levels, with some using a paywall for subscribers only, or posting only part of the newspaper content online. There’s a clear understanding people want to access information online, and that includes using a tablet or smart phone.

I was surprised at how many small papers have developed apps for smart phones, something the COURIER will do early next year. The world is definitely going digital and portable, but that doesn’t mean the printed page is obsolete. Publishers were stunned at the number of Facebook followers we had…almost 2100 and growing. It’s obvious readers simply want choices on how to access information.

Like larger newspaper companies, community papers have tried to diversify by publishing special sections, books, event marketing and, of course, website advertising. One paper produced a 300-page coffee table book with current and historical photos of Las Cruces, New Mexico. It has generated $125,000 so far. Hmmm.

One breakout session focused on website revenue. You can imagine it was very well-attended. But even with all the new and wonderful approaches people were taking, many of which are part of the COURIER website, it seemed every answer to “Are you making money?” had an asterisk attached because the newspaper was picking up some of the expenses to publish.

I left Charleston charged up and ready to go. I hope the staff doesn’t roll their eyes as they read this. And what about the 2 great ideas from all those publishers?

You all will just have to wait and see.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Letters to the editor

I am the last person to want to continue our conversation on Michael Valentine’s comments last week. But being a publisher and human being, I will second-guess myself after reading the responses from readers. There were many good points.

The COURIER readers comments are managed by Kathryn Dunn and she makes every effort to make sure many voices are heard. We have criteria for people to follow, but no blanket policies on what is refused. Much of it is common sense, something our managing editor has a lot of. We take each letter on a case-by-case basis.

In retrospect, I don’t think we should have published Mr. Valentine’s comments. There was really nothing to advance a conversation on anything current. It started with a quote from my father Martin that was over 30 years old. When I first read the comments, that’s what hit me. Old, old news. I cannot remember a reader comment so passionately negative about old stuff that went on in the city. It was almost a history lesson of Claremont events. This was an eye-opener for me.

Obviously, it was also hard to take the criticism of my father. Unfair or not, I had to ask myself…why? It clearly brought out old wounds of losing him, so much so, I didn’t even show the edition to my mother Janis. It would only upset her.

My comment to Mr. Valentine’s letter has been rightfully construed as projecting a “love it or leave it” attitude. That was not my intention. While I might have been a bit oversensitive, I’ve learned the love and defense of our parents extends even after they have left us.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New approach to covering local news? I don’t think so.

Major newspapers from around the country have discovered a serious byline problem. They include dailies from San Francisco, Chicago and Houston, among others. It seems staff reporters did not write certain local stories in these papers.

They were outsourced to a company called Journalic. In an effort to hide how they did business, Journalic decided to use fake bylines to disguise the fact that people from the Philippines wrote some of these local stories. The writers were paid as little as $4 per story.

I cannot say strongly enough (well, I guess I am) there are so many things wrong with this concept of reporting—from ethics to quality control—media executives should be running far away from this company. Unfortunately, they have not.

Brian Timpone, a former television reporter and community newspaper owner, founded Journalic 6 years ago. He knew there was a need for local information on police arrests, sports scores, real estate sales and other items that can be quite time consuming to report.

So as newspaper executives continued to look for ways to cut costs, but still focus on local news, Journalic became an option for larger papers struggling for a solution. The reasoning was staff reporters would then have more time to cover “important” stories.

This worked because Journalic reporters would comb the Internet looking for local information depending on who had contracted them. These bits of information would be sent to the publication for publishing. Right now they work with dozens of newspapers around the country.

But Journalic reporters are never part of the communities they report on. And in an effort to cut their own costs, much of the work was outsourced to other countries. The company now boasts 60 full-time reporters and 200 freelancers as they attempt to expand coverage.

Once again this is just another classic case of media executives following the flock on something that saves money, yet knowing this is a short-term solution with no longterm results. In other words…readers will figure it out. There’s also this little issue of ethics, trying to pass off local news written by people who work thousands of miles away.

Another area that gets lost in this shuffle is the contacts a local reporter will make when placing calls, checking events and confirming information while talking to residents and city officials. The bottom line is, it takes resources to cover local news accurately and there’s no real way to get around it.

It’s no secret that reporters must have a stake in the community they cover in order to bring quality journalism to readers.

STORY UPDATE: Both the Chicago Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle are in the process of dropping Journalic not only because of the fake byline issues, but after discovering some news stories were actually fabricated. This is a big pill for the Tribune to swallow given the fact they purchased Journalic last year thinking this was the next great thing for cost costing journalism.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I didn't realize Claremont news could come from NYC

There's yet another website in town that says they cover local news from Claremont and La Verne. I'm not going to mention their name because that would be giving them too much publicity.

But I cannot help but smile about this.

You see, they are owned by a huge corporate company that has other "local" websites around the country. Each website is the same, expect for the content. But they all look and work the same. Their corporate headquarters is also in New York City.

Earlier this week I got a call from someone updating a business directory that will be on their site. They asked me canned questions about the COURIER. They then asked me to say something about our business. So I said, "The COURIER is Claremont's number one source of information in print and online."

There was silence on the other end.

Then I was just asked another question as if nothing happened. So I finally asked where this nice gentleman caller was from. He said Manhattan. I kind of snickered saying "Oh, Manhattan Beach is very nice," thinking this guy was not even close to Claremont.

"No, I'm from Manhattan."

He was calling from NYC.

"Do you know where Claremont is?" I asked.

"Somewhere in California," he said.

Glad we got that straight.

Friday, May 25, 2012

It’s time to settle down and just do the right thing

Ever been to a meeting or event and everything seems to be moving along nicely and then WHAM—a comment is innocently made and the discussion turns into bar fight. That’s not quite what happened at Tuesday’s city council meeting, but I’m sure no one in attendance could have predicted so many, would get so worked up, over an anniversary celebration at El Barrio Park.
You see, the Arbol Verde Preservation committee asked the city about a $370 co-sponsorship to help with insurance and equipment for the event. One would think that’s just the type of thing the city (and residents) would help fund, especially given the small amount.
Not so fast. Mayor Pro Temp Opanyi Nasiali questioned whether the city should contribute because the event included a Catholic Mass. As the hour discussion turned into a debate of church and state, cries of a potential violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause were soon raised.
You could probably guess the First Amendment and I are quite close. I have discussed, commented and defended it for decades. But I'm also a very pragmatic person. In these situations, I have to ask myself: What’s the right thing to do?

Come on, that’s just not going to happen.
In this case, it’s clear the Mass is part of the celebration; the celebration is not part of the Mass. Supporting the event only shows how Claremont embraces diversity in our community. But what happens is paranoia takes over the city is now headed down a path of supporting specific religious groups with public money.

It’s clear the Arbol Verde Preservation committee will make great use of $370. Why can’t we as residents simply take a deep breath and do what’s obvious and the right thing to do? Do we really think the First Amendment was designed to forbid Claremont from supporting the party for its own historical landmark?

I think not.