‘Still eating’ good
advice for newspapers confronting challenges
By Rob Carrigan
His answer was always the
same: “Still eating.”
Rain or shine, good times or
bad, my grandfather always answered that way when anybody asked him, “How is it
going?” or “How are you?” or “How do you do?”
He had other little endearing
comments and sayings of course (for example, calling black table pepper the
Sioux word for fly poop).
But “Still eating,” was his
trademark and it reflected his hardscrabble existence as a homestead rancher on
the Western Slope of Colorado.
After years in the community
newspaper business, I have adopted a similar stance. Today, circulation is
harder to keep up. Advertising is more difficult to find, and it often has to be
shared with others. Nobody respects us. And the margins seem thinner than the
air at 14,000 feet.
Still, it is a fun business.
Something new every day, plenty of interaction in the thick of things and a
newspaper knows what’s going on around town. These all are definite benefits.
However, we need to turn a profit — or do we?
Maybe not. Consider media
critic Mark Glaser of MediaShift, who makes a case for citizen ownership of the
Los Angeles Times.
“Already, a handful of
newspapers have survived and thrived owned by charitable trusts as non-profits.
These include the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times (owned by the Poynter Institute)
and the Union Leader in Manchester, N.H. (owned by the Nackey S. Loeb School of
“They’re not setting the
business world on fire, but that’s not the point. The idea is for the newspaper
to make enough money to continue serving the public, without the pressures of
more, more, more profits from Wall Street,” writes Glaser.
As readers take greater
control in other ways like helping to create transparent and inclusive newsrooms
and becoming more interested in the news gathering process as citizen
journalists, it is only a wee leap to run the business-side of things, he
At a smaller scale, it might
even be more conceivable.
Serving a need
Jordan Moss, editor of the
non-profit Norwood News in the Bronx, N.Y., says non-profit newspapers can be
powerful tools that unite communities and shed light on issues overlooked by the
“As media companies continue
to merge and grow, the news gets further and further away from ordinary people’s
lives and concerns,” wrote Moss in 2002. “Neighborhoods without their own
newspapers have little access to local news and information. At a time when
urban issues have faded from state and national political agendas, the absence
of a widely read record of the issues confronting urban communities is even more
Personally, I have competed
against strong not-for-profit papers and it is an interesting exercise.
inexpensive advertising and far-reaching circulation efforts that were never
designed to make money can be tough competition in comparison to charging ad
rates that need to keep up with industry norms.
In many cases, these
“philanthropic” papers appear because a need exists and the private sector is
not paying close enough attention or providing an adequate outlet.
Stymied by MSM
In short, organizers created
the papers because they felt roadblocked by traditional media.
Market forces were ignored.
The readers, or advertisers, or others, asked for something and when they didn’t
get it, somebody figured out a way. Thus, non-profit becomes a viable option.
Maybe the non-profit model is
not that far-fetched.
After all, circulation might
not be as challenging to maintain. Advertising support might be less difficult
to find. If our focus was “philanthropic,” readers could find it in their hearts
to respect us. And we wouldn’t have to worry about thinner margins.
We would likely have to slim
down a bit.
But as my grandfather was
prone to say, we would be “Still eating.”
Carrigan is in the sales and business development group of weekly newspaper
publisher Colorado Publishing Co., a Dolan Media Co. unit based in Colorado
Springs. He can be reached at