By Timothy Linscott
I speak at high schools and colleges now and again about journalism and the first question I ask is, “What is the number one function of a newspaper?”
Answers will vary. Usually it is, ‘To inform,’ ‘To entertain,’ or ‘To cover the news.’ Every once in a while I will get ‘To uncover the injustice of the world,’ or ‘To be a mirror to society.’
While newspapers do all of those things and those are functions of a newspaper, those answers fall down the line on the list of importance when it comes to a newspaper business.
The answer is that the number one function of a newspaper is the same number one function of a bank, restaurant, auto parts store, any business on the planet, and that is to turn a profit.
Newspapers are a unique beast. It is somewhat publicly owned and driven, yet is a private business. We serve the public while still serving a bottom line.
When I started out as a publisher in Wilber, Neb., I took a business course, the Nebraska EDGE program, an intensive business course that is designed to enable a business owner to succeed now and in the future.
The director of the course looked at some of the aspects of the business and said, ‘Wow, I’ve never had to deal with this before.’
This is true, most businesses are not like newspapers, which is why this business is so unique and wonderful.
There are things about the newspaper business that some people outside of the business, and even inside the business, do not know about how a newspaper functions.
I am here to shed some light on this subject.
A newspaper makes, in general, 90 percent of its profit from advertising dollars.
Subscriptions make up less than 10 percent of a paper’s profit each year. Basically, your subscription pays for the postage to mail you the newspaper. Advertising determines the page count each week.
Jerry Seinfeld has the line, “It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.”
There are some people who believe that line, but, in reality, we have to edit, cut, omit and crunch stuff into the paper each week.
Once we add up the inches of advertisements, legals and classifieds each week, the page count is set for the issue. That can change dependent on ads that come in or are pulled out of the paper. When the page count is set, it is the job of the editor to work with the staff on determining what will fill those pages.
The amount of news is discussed and where each piece is going is determined based on size, relevance, importance, time dating and other factors.
I liken the layout of the paper each week to putting a puzzle together. The frame of the puzzle is determined by the advertising and what puzzle pieces will fit into the puzzle is determined by the editor and staff.
There are weeks we have 16 pages worth of news and photos, however, we have enough ads for 12 pages. The job of the editor and staff is to determine what of that 16 pages worth of stuff is going to fit into 12 pages. Sometimes things get held a week or two, sometimes stories, photos and other items are never run due to size or it being out-dated.
I have written stories that just sit and eventually time themselves out, never to see print. Many stories that I write are much longer than what appears in the paper, again, the job of editors and copy editors is to trim that information down to the most efficient and streamlined it can be while still getting the pertinent information out and fit into the allotted space.
We try to do our best to be at every event and cover the news, however, situations arise where there is just not enough room to get it all in during a given week.
This is the balancing act every newspaper deals with week in and week out. Trying to cover things, be everywhere and maintain the level of quality of the publication can be a daunting task. Every newspaper has its shortfalls. However, to strive to be perfect, to have a never-ending drive to craft each issue like an opus symphony is the goal of every editor, reporter, publisher and support staff of every paper in the world.
It is this drive that makes the challenge of putting a paper together unique and keeps us going 52 weeks a year.
Without this balancing act and without maintaining a profitability with the publication, then there would be less of a Tribune-Sentinel, or no Tribune-Sentinel. Every business works toward the goal of longevity, and like any other business, we need to be prudent and mindful of that goal.
There are some exciting things coming to the Tribune-Sentinel in the coming months. The paper is currently being re-designed with a new look to better serve the readers. We will be trying out some new ideas, promotions and stories/features to help continue driving forward with making the best possible product.