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Opinion: Shedding light on the importance of your local newspaper

by | Mar 19, 2020 | Opinion

This week the media is focusing on Sunshine Week. It is a time to celebrate a free press and what it means for you and your community to have access to public information.

Several weeks ago, I read a letter that should be shared with every community.

While the message in the letter is not typically associated with Sunshine Week, it is integral to the ongoing existence of this annual reflection.

This letter is from Wyman Williams, current mayor of Commerce.

“I am saddened … at the recent Commerce Journal headline indicating that our city would be losing a 130-year friend … the print version of our newspaper.

I am embarrassed … that I have been mayor of Commerce for over three years and have not prioritized explaining the unique role that print media could and should play in the most unusual marketplace that is Commerce, Texas.

I am embarrassed … that I have not explained to university administrators, faculty and staff the difficulties for local merchants to succeed in a market that has four months out of each year (three months in the summer and one month between fall and spring semesters) that population drops 40% to 50%.

Because 80% of university employees do not live in Commerce, merchants have great difficulty deciding how to invest limited advertising dollars to reach this lucrative market.

If the print version of the Journal was displayed in every dean’s office and departmental office with an expectation that every employee would benefit by becoming aware of not only the retail available near their workplace, but also the reports about the city, county, school district and hospital district board meetings that together support the work environment of all employees.

I am embarrassed … that I have not challenged the leadership of the chamber of commerce to support the Commerce Journal by buying a page a week for chamber news instead of competing with a monthly advertising supported newsletter.

If there were distribution on campus as explained above, advertisers would quickly recognize a reason to be regularly seen in the Journal.

I am embarrassed … that I have not brought together our campus storytellers, namely marketing and communications which includes our 100,000 watt KETR radio station, journalism instruction which includes the campus newspaper, the East Texan and our radio and TV instruction to visit with the ownership of the Journal to bring opportunity to our students to get real world experience covering campus and community news thereby improving interest in reading the newspaper.

I am embarrassed … that I have not informed the community of the incredibly entrepreneurial ownership of our newspaper. It is based in Montgomery, Alabama, and owned by the Alabama State Retirement System, which also owns the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trails.

They own similar newspaper operations in over 25 states and advertise Alabama tourism in each of those papers. For years our graduates have been hired by CNHI and have been given great opportunity to advance their careers.

I am determined … to bring these conversations about for the purpose of assuring CNHI that our community will support the Commerce Journal print version so it will be sustainably profitable.

In a town of 9,000-plus people, only 400 subscriptions are current. Our city is dependent on sales tax collected on taxable items purchased within our city limits. One and a half percent of the 8.25% collected returns to us. One percent goes directly to the city operating budget (almost 40% of the budget) and a half percent to the Commerce Industrial Development efforts (about $500,000 a year.)

Sincerely, – Wyman Williams Mayor.”

 

Thanks for reading and I’ll share my thoughts about Commerce’s news desert next week.

 

For more stories like this, see the March 19 issue or subscribe online.

 

By Chad Engbrock • [email protected]

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