Archive for October, 2013

Ken Doctor lists 10 ways the news industry will judge 2014. I agree with the list, but I’m focused on just one:

New strategies will be tested. We’re bound to get some sense of how the major strategies put into local markets this year are working. Think Advance’s Slim-Fast three-day-a-week home delivery plan is a good or bad idea? Let’s see — or least divine, since Advance is privately held — the results. How about Aaron Kushner’s major reinvestment in southern California? What’s the payoff in circulation, reader revenue, and advertising? As DFM’s Thunderdome rolls out for a full year, will it be a hit or a miss?”

I have about had my fill of debates about what is or isn’t going to work. I want some numbers. The three experiments Doctor cites above are among those too young at this point to judge. Paywalls, at many publications, are another. (At my own, a paywall is tentatively scheduled to go up next month. I’m not holding my breath.) Even after one year, you can’t declare success or failure — I recently heard a publisher tout the gains made by a new (less than a year old) advertising pricing strategy, but to this journalist’s eyes the numbers were front-loaded, with all the gain coming from new advertisers giving the new prices a spin and then not renewing, and I had to wonder what the second year is going to look like — but they are gaining age. Full-year results will be intriguing, second-year results will be when you start thinking about a trend.

It’s a painful thing, this waiting.

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No one ever will mistake me for a local, but having worked here in Lenoir once before, I sometimes get the same kind of surreal feeling that I have when I drive through neighborhoods where I grew up in other cities.

One came Tuesday when Sawmills Town Administrator Seth Eckard told me that in the materials the town has from its founding 25 years ago, he noticed that I wrote the story about the town’s incorporation.

I’m not sure whether Eckard had even started elementary school by then, but that’s a different topic.

There was an awkward moment after Eckard told me about that newspaper story. I was silent, my gaze drifted up and to the side. I’m sure my eyes glazed over. Then I looked back at him and said I don’t remember the story, but I remember the community discussion about whether to incorporate.

It wasn’t just that story or topic washing over me that turned me into a momentary zombie. It was that this was another in a series of such moments since I rejoined the News-Topic in January.

I go to the courthouse to help cover a trial, and I remember when reporters and lawyers alike were allowed to go up the back stairs, which now is behind a locked door. Reporters sat with the lawyers in the chairs to the side of the judge’s bench, opposite the jury seating, not out in the public seating, and we mingled in the law library behind the courtroom. I was in the hallway behind the courtroom when a man on trial for murder was brought over the catwalk from what is now the old jail, and a TV cameraman beside me working for a Charlotte TV station walked in close to the man, who suddenly became angry and punched the TV camera lens (why he wouldn’t instead punch the man holding the camera is probably related to the kind of thinking that lands a man in jail for murder in the first place).

When I go into the county administration building downtown, I remember how in 1987 no one – not a solitary soul, it seemed – referred to it as anything other than the Belk building.

When I drive along Southwest Boulevard, I remember an entire special section full of stories I wrote about that road’s construction, particularly one about what seemed like a high number of churches that had to be moved, were torn down or lost land to the road project.

But unlike someone who grew up here or has lived here for many years, my memories are not a continuum of change. I have two distinct reference points: 1987 and now. The intervening years, however, seem so fleeting that I feel more like a time traveler than a person who lived here, moved away and moved back, as though I visited long enough to learn some essential information about the place, then decided to skip ahead 25 years or so and visit again. Everything I see now is compared to my 1987 memory.

Going down Connelly Springs Road, mentally I check off, “That was there, that was there, that’s new, that used to be something else” – and that reminds me of a column I wrote in 1987 about trying to get directions to almost anywhere in this county. Over and over, people gave me directions citing landmarks that weren’t there anymore, as in, “You turn left where the (fill in the blank) used to be.”

I couldn’t follow such directions then. I might be able to now. But only if the landmark was there in 1987.

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