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Inky history, newspapers today, and this paper tomorrow

January 29, 2014
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By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher

With the new format for The Rock River Times, a little personal “inky” history is in order.

In my years before newspapering, beginning after graduating from Rock Valley College, I lived in the suburbs of Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Boulder and Telluride, Colo.; and several places in the Seattle area. I literally read newspapers across the nation.

Starting in the suburbs, I’d occasionally pick up theChicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times, but my love of newspapers began with reading The Washington Post when it was in its Watergate heyday at the end of the Nixon, all of Ford’s and the beginning of Carter’s administrations, 1974-1977. Woodward and Bernstein’s courage captured me and All the President’s Men. During those years, I’d also occasionally pick up The New York Times, The New York Sun and New York Post.

In Colorado, I really didn’t read the Rocky Mountain News (now defunct) as much as I read The Denver Post.

When I was in Seattle, I really enjoyed the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (now only published online) much more than The Seattle Times. The Post-Intelligencer had more local features, and the writing was edgier, challenging the establishment.

When I came back to Rockford in 1982, I would have challenged your sense of reality if you’d suggested I’d buy the monthly paper The North End Times in 1992, and change its name to The Rock River Times and take it weekly in the next year.

Taking related time travel back to living in Colorado, I never dreamed my great, great-grandfather, William Austin Hamilton Loveland (May 30, 1826-1894), was the second owner of the Rocky Mountain News. I knew Loveland Pass and the City of Loveland were named after him.

I didn’t know ink flowed in the family blood until my nephew Roger Whitney asked me about Loveland; and we sat on my back porch, where I read to Roger what my mother had written in the family genealogy about the railroad-track-laying, Fanney-Barret-mine-owning, University-of-Colorado-and-Golden, Colorado-co-founding man once nominated by Colorado for president. Yes, along with ink, business and politics wind in my genetics. His son was also named Francis.

Winding my memory back to my first local newspaper reality, I remember during my years in D.C. , I visited home to find many of the writers and pressmen from the Rockford Register Star sitting on my neighbor Eileen Peterson’s front porch one night. Normally a liquidly happy group, they sat sadly sober because the daily’s parent corporation at the time, Gannett, Inc., which purchased the daily in 1967, had broken the union at the paper that very day. Ironically, Eileen would write a column from Washington, D.C., for this paper, once she moved to our nation’s capital after a contested departure from the daily.

I had a contest in my mind when I bought this paper. I began reading the local daily, Chicago Tribuneand Chicago Sun-Times every day. I considered changing format to a broadsheet like the daily, or a half-fold tab like the Sun-Times and New York Post. The quarter-fold tab format we all have known for the past 21 years won that decision contention.

I have been considering a decision to change the format of this paper for about the last two years as I tracked the content and economics of my industry.

In the local market, smaller papers and even the daily have cut prices drastically, blowing the bottom out of a once stably-priced market, while reducing content and doing little to engage in critical thinking or truth-telling about the local establishment.

Nationally, following the local “go-along-to-get-along” lack of courage, newspapers have ceased publication, or gone to online-only publication, or undergone tremendous cutbacks.

Pages-painfully-in-point: the horrendous slashing done by the “supposed” financial “genius” Sam Zell to the Chicago Tribune. In my opinion, Zell’s massive dismissal of editors and writers, along with slaughtering one of the world’s best foreign bureaus, drove the once-great Chicago Tribune into bankruptcy and diminished its editorial stature — although it still has one of the best Arts & Entertainment sections in the country, and is doing some format progression itself under a new management consortium of investors and employees.

Employees were the last in the receiving line of neo-con (I carried George Bush and Dick Cheney’s war water) “Lord” Conrad Black’s colonial ownership of the Chicago Sun-Times. He blasted out much of blue-collar, Democrat heritage and financial health of that paper (prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald convicted Black of several counts of mail and wire fraud [some of which were reversed], as well as obstruction of justice. Black served three years in a Florida prison, was deported, and left for Toronto, Canada. Black is still a member of the U.K.’s House of Lords, and enjoys the title Lord Black of Crossharbour.) Yet recovering, the Chicago Sun-Times still does some of the best investigative journalism in Chicago and is well known for its sports coverage.

Speaking of sports, I think I have invented a new one: “Count the articles in the Rockford Register Star.” It’s a fun game anyone can play around the breakfast table to see who can do it the fastest. It won’t take long.

For Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, the Rockford Register Star’s News section included seven AP stories, two local features and one editorial, and the Sports section included three AP stories and one local feature.

Another fun game is “What is the price of Gatehouse Media Stock Today?” GateHouse Media was the parent corporation of the Rockford Register Star. For Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, the answer is: “Kinda complicated.”

When Gatehouse purchased the daily their stock was trading at $21 a share in 2007. The corporation’s headquarters are in Fairport, N.Y.

According to a http://investors.gatehousemedia.com/stockquote.cfm posting that goes no further than “GateHouse Media, Inc. (OT: GHSE), 3:52 PM ET on Sep 27, 2013,” with the “Last Price: 0.04 [a share]” with the “52-Week High” being 0.12 and “52-Week Low” being 0.01.”

This is noted as the “Last Price” because the Gatehouse bankruptcy agreement was reached Sept. 11, 2013 (yikes), but it was announced Sept. 27, 2013.

The company “listed assets of $433.7 million and debt of $1.3 billion” in its filing, “Sophia Pearson and Tiffany Kary report,” on http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/224610/gatehouse-declares-chapter-11-announces-prepacked-reorganization/.“Upon its exit from bankruptcy, GateHouse intends to pair with Local Media Group, the collection of U.S. newspapers News Corp sold to Fortress Investment Group, which owns GateHouse.”

The Sept. 27, 2013, press release announcing the bankruptcy stated: “GateHouse’s common stock would be canceled under the plan, and holders of secured debt would have the option of receiving a cash distribution equal to 40 percent of their claims, or stock in New Media Investment Group Inc., a new holding company that will own GateHouse and Local Media Group.” I think “Local Media Group” is about as accurate as my nickname, “Subtle.”

“My Final Answer” to the game now known as “What is the price of GateHouse Media/New Media Investment Group, Inc. Stock Today?” is — 0.29 a share as of “Mon 01/27/2014 9:22 PM EST | HKD,” according to http://www.morningstar.com/invest/stocks/328013-00708-new-media-group-holdings-limited.html. [This website has no relation to the Rockford Morning Star, which merged with theRockford Register Republic in 1979 to form the Rockford Register Star.]

Along with ceasing the publication of the Monday edition of the Freeport Journal Standard (another GateHouse Media paper), massive employee layoffs have been the result of the economic decline of the Rockford Register Star’s corporate entities. In fact, two former employees of the daily now work for this weekly.

Employees of The Rock River Times were asked to list the advantages of our new format. Although we all had many similar points, contributions by our Legals and Classifieds Editor Chris Luttig stood out.

Luttig wrote: “The new format reflects the strength of our people. The riskiest thing in the newspaper industry is not taking risks! We strive to deliver more than our customers expect, ‘what will blow our readers’ minds!’

“Rockford is considered the third-worst city in America. Yet, The Rock River Times realizes the value of our city and our readers, and we are bringing a big-city feel to this paper and showing Rockford isn’t dead! Don’t compromise.

“As the newspaper industry continues to let their physical papers die off and switch to online publishing only, those publications leave behind the demographic with limited computer skills, little or no Internet skills or access — not to mention they are the last generations with real disposable income. Here we are bringing you a fresh, updated product.

“We are making a change and staying progressive with the ‘times,’ not fading away like others in the industry, our passion for print runs deep!!

“We will have a new and matching website to follow our new print edition in the very near future,” Luttig concluded with confidence, because he is working on that updated website, complete with a new app.

Thanks to Senior Assistant Editor Brandon Reid; Copy Editor Susan Johnson; Senior Graphic Designer/Production Manager Jeff Helberg; Creative Director Thom Kuss: Staff Writer Jim Hagerty; advertising sales representatives Donna George and Jeremy Oster for offering the following points of the advantages of the new format for this paper I have presented in summary below:

1. Continuation and improvement of our commitment to exceptional print quality, which was first improved when we switched our printing to CSI Media, Inc./Bliss Communications, Inc., Nov. 20, 2013.

2. The front page is designed to grab readers’ attention, and the overall size is more reader-friendly and easier to hold. Even better, the more readable format resembles a magazine — clean format. Readers can see the front page all at once, with no stories “below the fold.” And we can handle an insert of any size!

3. Because the paper is now all in one section, as opposed to two, sections don’t become separated. The format offers more space for photos, better color options, which adds attraction for readers and advertisers. Plus, we have more flexibility in arranging articles.

4. We can expand our ongoing commitment to the arts and entertainment.

5. BIG and BIG attraction is lower advertising rates coupled with better ad print quality, with the option for color on any page. This better pricing and our high design standards will give us a competitive edge for our advertisers. They will enjoy better full-color translation with the new press at Bliss Communications, Inc. The paper starts and ends with more color.

6. The new format will be the talk of the town, creating better advertising exposure. The new format offers more advertising options, including front-page options. This makes the paper and products and services advertised in it more sell-able, both editorially and commercially; premium positions are available for clients.

7. Continuing to showcase our standards of proofreading of articles, legals and advertisements. For example, yesterday, a lawyer’s office was called to have them supply a missing case number in a legal running this week, and we realized our new sales representative, Jeremy Oster, was not listed in our staff box.

8. Our new format suggests the paper is a step ahead, with positive change, keeping up with and setting trends, reaching out to break our limitations.

On the other hand, Staff Writer Jim Hagerty dragged his knuckles and grunted, “Chicks will dig it.”

Facetiousness aside, the main reason for the new format is to improve the presentation of our most important principle, “We tell the truth.” Some people like the truth, others don’t like the truth. We know our readers expect the truth from this paper, and we will continue to provide the truth with a more attractive, affordable and progressive format.

Help us continue to grow: recommend The Rock River Times to your friends and to those you know who have businesses we can help with advertising. The Rock River Times is YOUR LOCAL PAPER! Our money stays in our area, and we are not based in Fairport, N.Y.

From the Jan. 29-Feb. 4, 2014, issue

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