By Tim Timmons
Editors note – Tim Timmons will write a column once a month during his term as president of the HSPA board of directors.
A couple of months ago at our annual meeting, Gannett’s Michael Kane told a story that I’d like to share.
Seems there were a couple of IU grads who started a new and different kind of company back in the ’80s. They had this rope that was elastic. The idea was to connect it to someone’s ankles, let them jump off a tall bridge and enjoy the experience.
Well, they found a spot and got their first paying customer. With the rope securely fastened, the customer leaped from the railing and hurtled downward.
A second later the two Hoosiers heard a giant THWACK!
As the rubbery rope brought the poor guy flying back up, he was holding the side of his head, bleeding badly. They tried to grab him but missed. Back down he went.
Again there was a THWACK! Horrified, they waited for him to catapult back up but once again couldn’t pull him in. This time he was holding the other side of his head, bleeding even more.
A third THWACK had our poor guys completely distraught. This time they managed to latch on to the customer and pull him in. He was bleeding badly all around his head and neck.
They began apologizing profusely, saying that they miscalculated and their bungee cord was apparently too long. The dazed guy looked at them.
“No, no, the cord is just fine,” he said. “But what the hell is a piñata?”
As Michael pointed out, that’s kind of what we’ve all felt like lately in the newspaper business.
Things are tougher than they’ve ever been for daily and weekly newspapers. Times are changing and we’re all faced with doom and gloom scenarios. In some recent issues of News & Tech, JRC’s John Paton and Cox Media’s Doug Franklin have been quoted as saying the end of print is inevitable.
Whether that’s tomorrow or in 10 years, it’s important to remember that today we are still the 800-pound gorilla in the news and information business.
Maybe penetration isn’t the 60 or 70 (or better) percent it used to be. Even if it’s fallen to 45 percent, how many businesses would kill for that kind of market coverage?
When someone says that your circulation doesn’t have value anymore, try this. Let’s say your circulation is 12,000. Schools sell chocolate bars all the time for fundraisers. Everybody loves chocolate, right? Ask that advertiser if they’d be willing to sell 12,000 chocolate bars tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day and so on. Suddenly, what we do every day has a little more value.
It’s easy in today’s world to focus on what we’ve lost or how things have changed and the uncertainty that comes with that. But it’s just as important to remember that we are in the position to move forward as the market leader.
We have the best news-gathering resources. We have the relationships with the advertisers. We still have the trust and confidence of our paying customers.
Businesses are started every day with far, far less.
We live in a time when consumers seek information more than ever. We just have to figure the best methods to ply our trade in a changing environment.
And that, in part, is what your state press association can help do. There may be people at the bottom of that bridge ready to take a swing at our industry’s piñata, but the collective power of more than 170 HSPA members can swing that rope back in our favor.
This year, one of HSPA’s goals is to explore ways newspapers can collectively find some of those answers for today, tomorrow and beyond. Stay tuned.
Tim Timmons is publisher of The Paper of Montgomery County (Crawfordsville) and The Times (Noblesville) and president of the HSPA board of directors.