DAVID WORONOFF: Pilot Excited About Year Ahead
In 1996, shortly after Fredanel and I moved to Southern Pines, I ran into an executive who ran all of the Jefferson Pilot newspapers.
We had a pleasant conversation. For obvious reasons, he just loved the name of our newspaper, and was enthusiastic about The Pilot's future. Surprisingly, the JP exec ended our visit on a slightly downer note: He said my team and I should impose a 10-year term limit on ourselves, after which we would step aside and let somebody else take over. At the time, I thought that was an eternity, and didn't pay the comment much attention.
When Editor Steve Bouser asked me to write to y'all about the year that was here at your newspaper and give a few tidbits about what we have in store for you in 2007, I reflected on that long-ago conversation. That seemed appropriate, since we celebrated the 10th anniversary of our investment here in the Sandhills last summer.
After plenty of middle-of-the-night rumination, I decided that guy just didn't understand the nature of this community and The Pilot's role in it.
I guess I could see the fella's point if we just pounded out a newspaper three days a week and managed the operation by scarcity of resources. Unfortunately, most chain-owned newspapers do just that, taking away the newspaper's soul and sucking all of the fun out of the operation along the way.
But that's not us. This wonderfully unique community has come to expect so much more from its newspaper. The noted British philosopher Mary Poppins might as well have been talking about The Pilot when she sang, "In ev'ry job that must be done/ There is an element of fun. /You find the fun and -- snap! -- The job's a game."
That's easy to do when you have as many initiatives going on and as many enthusiastic colleagues as we do. Whether it's publishing a daily paper during this summer's U.S. Women's Open or creating a communitywide wireless Internet network or launching a children's newspaper or reinvigorating our Web site, you can count on us to look for new and exciting ways to serve this special place that we are so fortunate to call home.
For me, coming to work every day is a joy. I'm just as fired up about our work here in the Sandhills as I was the first day I walked through the door more than 10 years ago.
In a way, though, we have followed that Jefferson Pilot newspaperman's advice. This year has been one of transition down here at The Pilot, with three of our five key executives leaving us. The retirements of Ad Director Tom Bryant and Circulation Director Dennis Lenart this fall, coupled with a reorganization of the accounting department in the spring, have changed the face of our operation. We can report a very smooth transition to Pat Taylor (our new ad director), Darlene Stark (our new circulation director) and Deborah Kilmer (our new office manager).
Those moves could have wreaked havoc in advertising, circulation and accounting. They didn't. Circulation posted slight increases this year in both revenue and volume, which not many newspapers across the country can boast. On the advertising side of the ledger, we experienced another solid year. If we factor out all of the non-recurring revenue related to our U.S. Open daily papers, we grew this important line of business as well.
In fact, we finished the year on a strong note, with four straight months of double-digit, year-over-year revenue growth. Any year that shows gains in advertising and circulation is a good one in my book. On top of that, both phone books and our commercial printing operation, Whistle Stop Press, posted record years.
All of that success in our advertising and circulation departments is a tribute to Tom and Dennis' great work. It's bittersweet, though, since we can't share it with them. Those guys added so much to the fun-loving culture around our office. Of all the things I miss about their leadership, it's their zest for life and newspapering that tops the list.
Fortunately, Tom keeps an office here in the building and has restarted his outdoor column. Dennis calls in regularly with his usual wisecracks from his new home in the mountains. Because of that, morale around the shop remains high.
Growing the Business
Your 87-member staff is energized by our roster moves as well as by our investments in our Web site, our soon-to-be-launched wireless Internet service and our new monthly publication, Kidsville News. For the last 10 years, we have worked to make The Pilot more than just a newspaper. By harnessing the marketing horsepower and the financial stability of the newspaper, we have grown our business into several different mediums.
Our investments in the Moore and Lee County telephone directories, Whistle Stop Press and Carolina Mailing Solutions have paid off nicely for us.
Our wireless initiative has garnered plenty of national trade publication publicity and places us squarely on the industry's cutting edge. Rather than nervously wringing our hands about the impact the Internet will have on the future of the newspaper industry, we have set a bold course.
We want to utilize the immense power of the Web to help us do our work better, which we believe is to bind this community together in a compelling way. We think our wireless initiative has the potential to do just that in a dynamic way.
The first step of the project is to offer free wireless Internet access in our town squares. Right now, we are up and running in downtown Southern Pines and West Southern Pines. We should be hot in downtown Aberdeen as well as Pinehurst in the next couple of weeks. We hope to add Carthage and Robbins to the list of free wireless downtowns in the next few months.
What we offer is a free broadband Internet connection to anyone with a laptop computer. We think the Internet should be everywhere and enable people to engage with this special place. Too often, computers keep us holed up in our homes and distract us from the broader community. So we hope you will go sit on a park bench in downtown Southern Pines or on the lawn at the Douglass Center and check your e-mail -- or, better yet, read The Pilot's Web site. Then pop into one of the many shops and restaurants in our downtowns.
I'm frequently asked how this free service helps the newspaper. The short-term answer is: not at all. However, we believe what's good for the community will be good for the paper.
Our free service will serve as the backbone for a more robust paid Internet connection. In the next month or so, we will launch a paid wireless Internet service called Pilot Broadband, which will use the brand-new technology called WiMax. We will sell wireless Internet access with cable-like speeds and bundle that service with a subscription to the newspaper.
Our focus initially will be in the urban areas of the county, but we will move quickly to offer this important service to the more rural parts of the county, where residents have very little choice in Internet providers. We hope to launch Pilot Broadband by March 1.
Integrating the Internet
This year, we have made integrating the Internet into our news operation a priority. Our Web site looked OK and generated an impressive readership for a newspaper of our size. But we were unconsciously competent, because we spent very little of our human or financial resources on it.
This summer, that all changed. We recruited a full-time news staffer to manage the site's content and launched the redesigned Web site in July. Those moves are now bearing fruit with dramatically increased usage. Our Web site's advertising revenues have followed this same trend.
We want our Web site to offer information not available -- and not even possible -- in our printed edition. We added a dozen or so blogs this year and are looking to get more community input into them in 2007. These are personal forums, which allow you to instantly post your reaction and thoughts regarding the news of the day.
We've dabbled with audio podcasts -- commentary and local music that can be listened to at your computer or downloaded onto an iPod or other mp3 player -- and created photographic slide shows set to music.
This year, look for us to add video to our Web offerings. One of our most exciting innovations has been the development of a real estate database that allows us to display houses for sale graphically on satellite maps.
With a click of a mouse, you can quickly see all of the houses available in any given neighborhood and what their asking prices are. Since most of our readers' largest investment is their home, we thought this an important category for us to focus on.
In the year ahead, look for us to mine the power of computer databases and present them to you in a compelling and comprehensive way -- both in print and online.
It has been a pleasure serving and growing with this community in the past 10 years. We at The Pilot look forward to continuing that tradition for many more decades.
David Woronoff can be reached at 693-2495 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
More like this story