The newspaper that purports to be the Morris newspaper is going through changes again. The changes all fall in the category of retrenchment. The ownership tries putting lipstick on a pig of course. What would you expect them to do? The strings are being pulled from elsewhere. The local management can always just claim that it is responding to directives from elsewhere.
It's like those poor Wells Fargo employees who had to do terrible things. There was no local owner who had to face his customers in church on Sunday. In this sense maybe we can bemoan the loss or severe decline of mom and pop businesses in America. A local bank owner would never do the kinds of things that Wells Fargo was caught doing. Now we have the local newspaper with non-local ownership cutting expenses to try to keep profit margins up, extracting enough money from legacy customers to keep profits decent at least in the short term.
I saw the "new" Morris paper on Monday. I was at the Morris Senior Center. I did what I always do: check out the size of the product. Surely this "new" product, which purports to include the discontinued Hancock Record, would be larger. A business friend of mine on main street told me that he had been told by a paper rep that the typical size would be 20-26 pages. I'm not sure we should even be wowed by that. Didn't the paper put out many editions of at least 20 pages in the days when it was still twice a week? The paper was twice a week through my whole tenure there. We didn't charge to run obituaries.
The June 17 edition of the paper, newly named the Steven County Times, is 18 pages. There is no increase in size. And yet the paper trumpets that it now includes the Hancock paper. I might suggest this is outright fraud, right out of the Wells Fargo playbook.
What will happen when fall comes? Hancock residents will expect to see a decent amount of space allocated for Hancock sports coverage. And if the paper does that, it will alienate many Morris readers. Katie Erdman, when she was at the Hancock paper, would devote considerable space to photo spreads on the Hancock Homecoming coronation, the graduation and some other big events. If the paper remains at 18 pages, can this really be in the works? My closing months at the paper eleven years ago, an experience somewhat like being waterboarded, exposed me to lots of talk about how the paper's website would be so super dynamic - apologies to Willie Martin, RIP. I don't check the paper's website often. I doubt that it's a full-service site for local news and sports - it's more of a tease.
I actually got along well with the Forum when it first took over from the Morrisons. This was despite the fact I knew I wasn't their type. The co-existence worked for an extended time. And then the climate changed abruptly as if a directive came down. The Forum is like that. I was able to parachute out of there. And then the paper went through stages of retrenchment or downsizing. That was also "spun" as something positive.
Now we have an 18-page paper, same as before, that presents itself as now including the Hancock Record. Surely my fellow Morris residents will see what's happening.
The names "Morris Sun Tribune" and "Hancock Record" appear under the new "Times" nameplate. But surely there is more to Stevens County than just Morris and Hancock. Is the new paper going to try to usurp the role of the Chokio Review? Oh, of course not. The paper is just toying with names and cosmetics. It's like these "redesigns" that newspapers are always trumpeting. As if a redesign will have any substantial positive impact on how the paper fares. They are just a turn-on for the paper staff. Paul Gillin of "Newspaper Death Watch" calls them "lipstick on a pig."
The Canary supplement has shrunken down to an average size of 16 pages, whereas in the past we only saw the 16-pagers during the typical "slow" times for the press. The current Canary has "filler" feature articles, of all things, and other fluff just to try to pump up the size. The Canary is supposed to be advertising. Wait until Jim Gesswein catches up with the times and starts cutting back on his print advertising. Car dealers don't have to advertise as much because cars are made better today. People don't have to buy cars as often. I used to take car photos for three major dealers every week for a long time, and I often wondered: Why are people buying cars so much? Can't they keep their old ones going a little more? Well, now I think they do.
Of course, car dealers now use the electronic media like all get-out. All of our other local institutions should do that too. Let's get local sports reporting established online. The sites could be like what we see for the UMM teams. It would be fun. You could click to see a schedule page, a roster page, a coaches page etc. I actually expected this trend a long time ago but it didn't happen. "Maxpreps" already has pages set up for the Morris teams. But we need more coaches and fans submitting material for those pages. I write lots of local sports and submit links to the Maxpreps pages. It's fun.
A big difference between now and when I was with the Morris paper, is that now I'm not expected to cover every team all the time. I write what I feel like writing. I don't pretend to cover anything comprehensively. The sports section of the local paper is like a political football: It strives in vain to report, promote or puff all the teams that consider themselves important. The great Marv Meyer once said to me: "Brian, there are people who read your articles because they have an ax to grind, and that's the only reason they read them."
How nice to be away from that now. I don't have to work with Trent Oberg anymore. I don't have to work with Steve Harter anymore. In the late 1980s the whole Morris community blew up with controversy over the management of high school sports. Anyone at the paper would have had trouble navigating through all that.
Let's detach more
So, the days of being interested in how the Morris (or Morris/Hancock) paper is functioning are waning. The local paper and its non-local ownership is rapidly making its product less relevant. Do you really need to pay to get an obituary published? Isn't the funeral home website, or better yet an independent website, good enough for this? Change takes time.
The paper has completely axed its free-circulation shopper, the Ad-Viser. Cut, cut, cut. The newspaper will remain stable only to the extent that it accentuates pure service, and of course it is not doing that. Willie's Super Valu is now forced to use direct mail to get its flyer out. I actually get to see the Willie's flyer now. Many years ago I informed the paper that I didn't want that bulky Ad-viser in our mailbox, so full of Alexanrdia stuff. Our family hardly ever visits Alexandria, and besides, we're a low-consumption family. More and more of our local families or individuals are going to be like that now with our "graying" demographics.
Stop buying the paper and stop advertising in it. Sheesh, stop supporting those "sucker ads," like even for the honor roll. The paper should just publish the honor roll. It doesn't need "sponsors" though I'm sure they're glad to get some sucker businesses to do that.
Wake up and smell the coffee. The paid circulation of the Morris paper is only about 40 percent of what it once was. And it won't even help to "absorb" Hancock (not that the paper is really going to do that). Forum Communications is a charlatan in the Morris business community.
Addendum: The Elbow Lake newspaper gives its customers 26-28 broadsheet pages a week. Why the disparity vs. Morris? Also, the cutting of the Ad-Viser has apparently opened the door, as expected, to the Lakeland Shopper making a new invasion here. I even noticed the Lakeland Shopper using a Senior Perspective display stand at the entry to DeToy's Restaurant Wednesday morning. I advised Jim Palmer of this. Detoy's often has a biscuits and gravy special on Wednesday a.m. I recommend it.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - email@example.com