A change for the better

By John Peters - [email protected]

It’s funny how life works.

If you’re around long enough, you see things tend to go in circles: what’s in fashion today might fall out of fashion next year, only to return in five or ten years. You see that in clothing, music, even the type of television shows and movies that are hot at any given time.

It’s much the same in the business world, and in particular the newspaper industry.

As most of you probably know, The Mount Airy News, along with a number of our sister publications across North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, were sold from Civitas Media to Champion Media in June.

I’ve seen comments online about the sale, some wondering if this will mean anything different in the actual publication of the paper, a few expressing hope they will see improvements in The News, others more pessimistically saying ownership changes usually results in cost cutting and continued drop in quality.

I think folks around here will see a number of positive changes in The News and our sister publications over the coming weeks and months, all directly resulting from the ownership change.

The business world is made up primarily of two camps. The first places an emphasis on short-term maximum profitability on assets it can then sell, with little regard for long-term sustained growth. The second takes that longer-term approach, building relationships and quality, emphasizing sustainable profits, growth, and customer satisfaction.

I don’t know that you can necessarily say either is right or wrong. In the free enterprise system that largely defines the U.S. economy, individuals are welcome to run any sort of business they desire, whatever they feel is in their best, individual interest.

I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus, nor speak out of turn, but I think it’s safe to say our previous ownership was an investment group, whose primary function was to maximize short-term profits while setting up the sale of its assets, without too much regard for what happens two or three or five years down the road.

That’s changed now. With Champion Media owning the Mount Airy News (and The Pilot Mountain News, and The Elkin Tribune, and a number of other publications), I see community newspaper people in ownership and management positions.

We’re still a business, and businesses must make a profit or they don’t stay around long, but already I’m seeing our internal world shift to what makes sense for The Mount Airy News as a community newspaper, serving its readers and advertisers. We’re in a position to place greater emphasis on building, or strengthening, local relationships.

And that brings me back to my point of how things seem to come back around again over the course of years.

When I first started in this business, I was a reporter, sports writer and photographer for a tiny little weekly newspaper in Appomottax, Virginia. We were owned by a small company called Atlantic Publications, which owned 20-some newspapers across four states.

With the exception of a few free distribution publications in some beach communities, they were all small community papers, many which Atlantic had purchased from local ownership. Those papers, by and large, had a strong, respectful relationship with local businesses and readers.

My next job was with a larger daily paper which was still owned by a local individual living in that city. Again, there was a strong relationship between the paper and the community.

Since then, I’ve made a few career moves, working for larger companies and smaller, but I’ve always looked back on those first two jobs with a certain fondness, not just the nostalgia that always seems to surround the “good old days,” but because of the local flavor those papers had.

I’m starting to feel that way about our recent ownership change here, at the Mount Airy News. And I think you’ll see evidence of that in the coming weeks and months as well.

I don’t want to overpromise, make everyone think the paper is going to be a radically different product in a week or two. We’re still going to do some of the tough, pointed reporting we have in the past despite the fact that some in our community don’t like reporting that doesn’t toe their party line. We’re going to express opinions on our editorial page which some of you may find disagreeable. We’re still beholden to deadlines that can make it impossible for us to get certain things in the next day’s papers. And like any other business, our folks can only work so many hours in a given week.

But I think you’re going to see more local features, a wider variety of stories and other items in the paper, more emphasis on publishing the local community news you all send to us, more timely publication of events which happen in the evenings, and a greater effort on working with community groups and businesses.

Already, we’ve restored the popular “You Said It” column that summarizes a few of the online and social media comments our coverage generates among readership, and yesterday you saw our once popular “Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down” column, which hasn’t appeared in the Mount Airy News in several years.

And we’re going to have additional improvements and additions soon, as we fill some long-vacant positions here and beef up our ability to get out and cover the news that’s important to you. It’s an exciting time for us here at The Mount Airy News, and we hope to make it exciting for you as well.

John Peters is editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at [email protected]

By John Peters

[email protected]

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