You may have noticed that the Messenger had only one section last week and this week. This is the first time that’s happened in about 10 years — possibly longer.
When I was writing for the paper in the late 1990s, we sometimes had one section papers, but since our current design came out in about 2000 or so, we’ve always had section one and “Out & About.” Several times each year we have a third section on high school sports, Isle and Onamia days, academics and our Progress edition.
Last week “Out & About” was stuffed in the middle of our single-section paper.
The explanation is the same as the explanation for the smaller papers you’ve been receiving over the last three years.
It all comes down to money, and with newspapers, money comes from two sources: advertising and circulation. Circulation revenue comes from subscriptions and newsstand sales of the paper, but the majority of the Messenger’s income derives from display and classified ads.
The great thing about newspaper advertising — and why it’s been a successful model for centuries — is that there’s a host of benefits.
The ad informs the public about the business, while supporting another local business. That business, the newspaper, provides a service to the public that enhances the quality of life in the community.
Advertising pays for the paper, the ink, the printing process, and the salaries of those who work here. Simply put: Fewer ads, smaller papers. No ads, no paper.
I could take it personally, because advertising has been declining pretty much since I became editor. I’m not entirely to blame, however. It’s mainly the poor economy, along with the increase in Internet advertising and the birth of Craigslist, which has decimated classified advertising in newspapers.
As ad revenue has declined, we’ve also put additional time and money into our website. Unfortunately, Internet advertising brings in a fraction of the dollars newspapers once earned through advertising in their paper products.
So here’s the situation: We’re investing time and money in a website that doesn’t pay for itself, and actually hurts our bottom line even more because some readers get their news for free on the Web and don’t buy the paper.
At least one reader understands this. A reader named Riley Hendrickson sent us a check last week because he reads the Messenger on the Web. He doesn’t want the paper version, but he understands that what we do costs money.
The sad reality is that the newspaper is a business, and if revenue doesn’t keep up with expenses, something’s gotta change. Either we get more ads and more subscribers, or you’ll continue to see smaller papers with fewer staff members to bring you the coverage and quality you expect.
As you may recall, two years ago we lost some valued members of our staff. Those individuals have still not been rehired or replaced. It was a loss to us and to you, and a direct result of declining advertising revenue.
The Messenger’s not going away. Newspapers may be shrinking, but they’re surviving, and this paper’s owner, Kevin Anderson, is committed to the long-term health of the industry.
As long as there are thriving communities, profitable businesses and engaged citizens around Mille Lacs, there will be a Mille Lacs Messenger. How big and how good it is depends in part on you.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.