DAVID WORONOFF: All in All, a Good Year at The Pilot
During the Great Depression, many restaurant owners tried to stretch resources by adding water to their soup.
As you would expect, restaurants featuring such diluted broth often ended up standing as empty as a fairway on Christmas Day.
But a few eateries took a counterintuitive approach, made their soups heartier, and packed in the customers during those lean times.
Many years later, a New York newspaper editor took note of that situation when he found himself on the horns of a recessionary dilemma. "When a newspaper like ours needs help in difficult times," he said, "the best way to nourish it is not by watering the soup but by enriching it with more meat and tomatoes."
Since your local newspaper company felt the full force and fury of 2009's Great Recession, we've tried to heed that wise editor's advice.
Although we implemented our share of cost controls this year, we tried hard to keep those reductions invisible to our readers and advertisers. As evidence that they haven't affected the quality of our product, we find encouragement in recent preliminary word from the North Carolina Press Association that we have earned our largest number of journalism awards ever in the annual contest.
While this tough economy has impacted your newspaper and related enterprises, it looks as if we're going to scratch out a respectable year (knock wood). And we look downright rosy compared with other media companies in this area and across the country.
Through November, our revenues were down 12 percent from the previous year. When you consider that 2008 was a record year for us, we feel fortunate to post those results against such a tough comparable. Many media companies have reported declines twice that level and have had to resort to Draconian expense cuts to balance their budgets.
Variety of Products
Newspapers are excellent barometers for the communities they serve. In our case, the travails of the real estate, retail and hospitality industries directly impacted our advertising revenues.
The good news here is that all three of those sectors say they're seeing green shoots sprouting, which should blossom into a brighter economic outlook in the coming year. With unemployment dropping and the Dow Jones Industrial Average north of 10,000 points, next year holds promise that we might begin putting the recession behind us.
Our decade-long strategy of expanding into other ways to serve the Sandhills' information needs really bore fruit this year. Our newspaper, phone books, magazine and Web sites have us well positioned once this economy lets us off the mat.
The Moore County Telephone Directory, which publishes annually and has a much broader base of customers than the newspaper, hasn't suffered as much from the recession. It continues to be a popular product by just about any measure.
In the year just ended, we invested in the development and launch of MooCo.com, a local search engine. We believe this Internet-based initiative will complement the phone book for our community's information needs while providing local businesses with a cost-effective advertising alternative. Whether you want to make a reservation at a local restaurant or just browse its menu, you can find it at MooCo. So far, the debut of this product has produced encouraging results.
Magazine and Web Site
PineStraw magazine really stepped out this year. Our monthly, glossy magazine flies off the racks. Earlier in the year, we typically ran out of copies before the 15th of the month. That popularity prompted us to increase our circulation by 30 percent, or 3,000 copies per month. As a gift to our loyal advertisers who were struggling from the recession's bite, we didn't increase advertising rates.
We think your magazine, which is edited by New York Times best-selling author Jim Dodson, is poised for even more growth in the New Year. One exciting addition to our burgeoning magazine division will be a new publication, PineStraw's Home & Garden -- or "PHG," as we've taken to calling it. Building on the popularity of the magazine's monthly "Story of a House" feature, we hope to roll out PHG later this year.
Starting in the fall, we've also invested heavily in redesigning our Web site, thepilot.com. The upgraded site, which will feature more videos, weather, multimedia presentations and reader interaction, as well as a directory of all 3,100 businesses in Moore County, will premiere in a couple of weeks. The new site looks fantastic and provides the world a better view of our special community.
We have partnered with The Lawrence (Kan.) Journal World newspaper, a nationally renowned pioneer in electronic publishing, to help us produce and maintain this site. Our plan is for you to be able to view and critique our new look before it goes live and help us continue to improve this increasingly important component of the news operation.
My four partners and I look at these initiatives as an investment in this great community and as an opportunity to demonstrate our priorities, which we think make your newspaper unique. We believe that producing great publications and telling your stories as dynamically as possible is the best service we can render to you, our readers.
Like all businesses here in our Eden in the Pines, we tightened our belts and trimmed some expenses. Among other measures to improve our bottom line, we went to a slightly narrower page format, reduced the size of our TV Week publication and tightened up our news and opinions sections here and there. We joined most other papers in the country in converting to all paid obituaries, and we eliminated the Sandhills Sun, our free total market coverage newspaper.
Those decisions were painful, but were made to help keep your newspaper viable.
Since we held off on such cost-cutting steps until midyear, most of our revenue decline dropped all the way to the bottom line. The Pilot remains comfortably profitable, though, and our business is as viable as ever. We're fortunate that we don't have much debt, which has enabled us to be more nimble during these recessionary times.
That flexibility has allowed us to mull over plenty of opportunities this year. During the spring and summer, we considered acquiring two larger newspaper companies. Discussions about both acquisitions failed in large part because we were committed to make each one pay for itself and not negatively impact our operations here in the Sandhills.
On a personal note, I achieved a professional goal this year when I was elected president of the North Carolina Press Association. Starting with my great-grandfather Josephus Daniels way back in 1884 and continuing with my grandfather and uncle, I represent the fourth generation of my family to serve the state in that capacity.
But however much this temporary position may require me to concern myself with the welfare of newspapers on a statewide stage, my heart will always remain here in this community my family and I feel so fortunate to call home.
David Woronoff is publisher of The Pilot.
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