It had finally happened. Over the years, I’ve seen many of my colleagues suffer unexpected departures from the newspaper business. Many of us enjoyed the “heyday” of the 1980s and early 1990s when advertising revenue rolled in.
Then the internet arrived and advertisers had new options to reach their targeted audiences in a more cost-effective manner. Classifieds dwindled with the arrival of Craigslist. Circulation numbers began to fall with new media operations and alternative news products cutting into readership.
Somehow, I had survived previous layoffs through the years. They started around 2008 and would hit every couple of years. Those of us who remained wondered how we would ever be able to do our jobs with so few people. Then it would happen again. Nowadays, it’s to be expected.
Salaries also suffered. In fact, I’ll share with you that my annual salary in 2006 was roughly $10,000 more per year than I made in my final full year at my former company. Salary freezes were common, raises were rare. I could count on one hand the number of raises I received over the past 10 years.
Many of my friends in the business wisely chose to pursue other careers. A former roommate and co-worker of mine in Grand Island, Nebraska, got into stocks after leaving his job in Topeka, Kansas. A friend and co-worker of mine in Prescott, Arizona, gave up the life of a journalist, went to law school and is now an attorney in California.
My own wife worked in Corvallis and left the newspaper business to take a key management position with a small company that takes care of adults with disabilities. She passed me on the salary scale a long time ago.
About two years ago, I tried to prepare myself for what I started to believe would be inevitable. I took a business class through the Small Business Development Center at Linn-Benton Community College. I spent many hours on a business plan to try to determine if an independent news operation could work in Philomath.
The one thing that I didn’t want to do was resign from the Philomath Express and become a direct competitor. A small town like Philomath could never support two news operations. I decided I would work for the Express as long as possible and if it ever folded, I’d consider starting my own business.
As you all know by now, that’s what happened. My last day was Sept. 14. The Express was published for the last time on Sept. 23.
I filed as a limited liability company on Sept. 22 and put my plan into motion to bring local news back to Philomath.
Some may wonder if it’s a poor business decision — an emotional reaction to losing my dream job. After all, a large company with more resources couldn’t make it work and I’m just one person who’s heavy on news experience but a rookie when it comes to running a business. However, I truly believe the right business model can work in Philomath — at least to be able to survive.
I’m at a point in my life where I know that I’ll never make a ton of money. That’s the path I chose many years ago when I opted to remain in journalism. With the Philomath News, I just want to make enough money to keep the business afloat while I continue to work in my chosen profession in my chosen community.
You’ll hear from me from time to time as I ask you to consider contributing through a voluntary membership. I decided that I didn’t want to put up a paywall so it could be accessible to anybody who wants to keep up with the local news.
Our businesses will also hear from me as I share with them the benefits of digital advertising targeted to a local audience while supporting local news. My theory that the business model can work will certainly be tested — especially with the extra challenges related to the pandemic.
These first 12 months of the Philomath News will hopefully be educational in terms of what works and what doesn’t with the sustainability of this business. I’ll work my hardest to try to make it a success from all angles.
(Brad Fuqua is publisher and editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached via email at [email protected]).