January 8, 2012 by Steve Winkler
Going the full 52 rounds is bound to jar one’s brain and body, so it’s okay that I feel dazed, confused, and stupefied after a year publishing this little weekly paper in the depths of the worst economic conditions in 50 years. With some dedicated, unselfish help from dozens of writers, dedicated staff, scores of supporters, family and friends, this little rag-tag free press enterprise is staggering into the New Year.
We had our eyes blackened, teeth loosened, nose bloodied in a few rounds; we hit the canvas once or twice (remember the six-page editions?). But fortunately, we had the “go get’em” shouts of encouragement from loyal readers/subscribers.
Of course, not everybody thinks we’re so wonderful. If everyone thought having a free press was such a good thing then newspapers wouldn’t need protections granted in our constitution. One governmental body, the West Fork City Council, expressed their disdain for freedom of the press by voting to give city business to an out-of-town paper, even at twice the price (larger circulation they reasoned). I suppose they thought that would stifle our criticism of city hall. It didn’t. If this newspaper can’t stand tall for freedom of information, governmental accountability and the rule of law, we should just call the dogs, p**s on the fire and head to the house.
The Observer exemplifies the free enterprise system at work. We produce without subsidies, grants, foundation endowments, or donations (although we’ll accept them). It was the financial support from our advertisers that breathed life into the pages this year. Without their dollars the ink would have never gotten on the paper.
We may be against the ropes, but by golly, we’re still in the ring. Using luck and grit, we fared better than a couple of other palookas down the road. The White River Valley News over in Elkins was folded into Huntsville’s Madison County Record. The upstart, independent weekly Siloam Springs Journal suspended publication after 21 issues. The big-time, big-city daily — which recently downsized — ain’t lookin’ too good, either.
As we stumble weak-kneed toward Volume 3, 2012, we keep trying to convince ourselves that 2011 was the dark before the dawn, knowing that some changes will have to be made.
Beginning in January, 2012, we will no longer be a weekly paper but will begin publishing every other week – 26 issues per year.
A fortnight publication will allow for a larger paper, as well as more time to develop stories. After this issue, the next Observer will publish on Jan. 12. (Please don’t call the Post Office on Jan. 5 asking where you paper is). The single copy price will be $1 (still cheaper than a cup of coffee). The subscription price will remain $26 per year for Washington County residents. The every-other-week publication schedule will allow us to spend more time reaching into our local community for the news, feature stories and commentary that readers tell us they want.
Also, the paper will have a fresh new look on Jan. 12. We will move from our current “broadsheet” paper size to a tabloid, a.k.a compact format. This will provide for more efficient production in both laying out the paper and printing. Trust me, you’ll like it.
Any small business must find its own special niche in a marketplace dominated by extremely rich and powerful competitors, if they expect to survive. The little guys have to do something better than the big boys — have a better product, be more flexible, give better service, be in a better location, be more creative.
The Observer obviously cannot compete head-to-head with zillion dollar international media conglomerates. We won’t try. So why do we even try to exist when there are plenty of high-powered, high-tech, high-minded news organizations hawking news and information? They all have high caliber journalists, analysts, commentators, deep pockets and satellites in the sky. What more could a news consumer want?
Look at it this way. The billion dollar music industry can provide you with the most technically proficient product money can buy. Perfect in every way, digital musical entertainment is available to us all — any taste, everywhere, anytime. So why do neighbors still sit on the porch strumming a guitar and singing off key?
Folks do it for the same reason people continue to read community newspapers. It’s authentic, it’s personal, and it’s close to home. The news is our news. It’s our opinion. The voice is our voice.
Also, and this is a big deal for us, we have a new re-designed website that rolls us into the big league of websites. More than just a crisp appearance, the site is more interactive and easier to navigate than our old site. Photo Slideshows, Bloggers, Public Service Announcements, more Public Records, Tweeter updates for breaking news and stories not in the print edition are a few of the reasons to give us a look: www.wcobserver.com.
At year’s end, we here at the Washington County Observer feel grateful and hopeful and wish only the best for you and yours in the year to come.
Now, let’s go have some fun.