Pennies for our thoughts
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
The Iowa Newspaper Association Convention and Trade Show is an opportunity to celebrate the best works of Iowa newspapers published the previous year. Earlier this month, the Dickinson County News sent its cast of characters to the event in Des Moines. On the final night of the three-day convention, we collected 30 awards at a banquet held at the downtown Marriott Hotel and were named the state's top midsized weekly newspaper for the fifth time in six years.
We were still celebrating when we returned to the office on Monday, but the sheen of success wore off quickly as we began working to put out the following week’s paper.
Phones rang. Keyboards clacked. We grit our teeth in frustration and laughed at each other’s jokes. It was just a normal day at the DCN.
When I returned home that night, I checked my Twitter feed one last time before hitting the hay. The first tweet I saw came from Sioux City Journal sports writer Jason Cowley — a longtime peer who has helped me gather cross country and track results on many a late night.
“After 18 plus years. My position at the Sioux City Journal has been eliminated,” Cowley wrote. “Its been a great ride.”
Dozens of folks responded to Cowley’s tweet. Several of Iowa’s sports writers joined in the conversation. Many, too many, have found themselves in similar situations.
The following morning, Cowley tweeted, “You wake up one morning thinking you know what your doing in life. You wake up the next realizing its time to start all over again.”
Cowley's former employer, the Sioux City Journal, also collected several awards at the INA banquet, edging out the Des Moines Register — Iowa's "Newspaper of the Year" — in many categories.
Unfortunately, no amount of accolades can save a newspaper from the need to cut staff ... or worse.
Take The Charleston Gazette-Mail for example.
In April, the West Virginia newspaper was awarded journalism’s highest honor, a Pulitzer Prize, for reporting on the state’s opioid crisis. Eight months later, staff members learned the newspaper was filing for bankruptcy. The paper will be sold to the highest bidder, ending a century of family ownership.
Reports say Wheeling, West Virginia-based Ogden Newspapers is the leading bidder. That same company owns Iowa newspapers as well, including those in nearby Estherville and Emmetsburg.
They also own the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Ogden Newspapers' bid of $10.9 million for the Gazette-Mail is slightly more than the Pirates pay catcher Francisco Cervelli ... per season. According to a story by the Gazette-Mail, bidders are not required to specify what, if anything, will happen to the current staff members when the sale is closed in late March.
From West Virginia to northwest Iowa, newspapers are sharing the pain of stagnant subscriptions and atrophied advertising. But we're all resolved to do something about it.
Take a flip back to the front page of this issue of the Dickinson County News and you’ll notice something different. Right there, alongside a revamped masthead, you’ll see an advertisement. While front-page advertising has become commonplace throughout the industry, this marks the first time in the newspaper’s 120-plus-year history that an ad has appeared regularly on its front page.
It's a big deal.
It's a big deal for local businesses because it means their advertising will be seen on gas station newsstands, lakeshore living rooms and break room tabletops across the county. It's a big deal for the Dickinson County News because it means we can continue to bring you the best and most thorough news and sports coverage in the Iowa Great Lakes Area.
That coverage costs money.
The lovely redesign you see on these pages was done by our award-winning designer, Nina Sorenson. That was quite the undertaking. As kind-hearted as she is, she didn't do it for free. Nor should she have.
The coverage you see in the first two sections of this paper was assembled by our award-winning writer, Seth Boyes, and award-winning editor, Russ Mitchell. It costs money to send those guys to legislative forums, and house fires, and board meetings, and ribbon-cuttings.
When you read this column, I'll probably already be on my way down to Des Moines for the state wrestling tournament. That three-day trip costs the paper a pretty penny. It's so cost-prohibitive that most of the 200-plus newspapers in this state — including print publications that vie for the same Okoboji advertising dollar — don't bother to send anyone to the event. Fortunately, the Dickinson County News doesn't see it that way.
Just as those wrestlers are committed to their sport, we're committed to this community.
When I return from Des Moines, I'll bring all of those stories and photos back with me. That ad on the front page will have paid for the trip. Your subscription will have paid for the printing. For less than a cup of coffee, the photos and stories and memories are yours to keep.
That's a heck of a deal.