In February 2009, we launched a major advertising and circulation campaign. We offered full-page and half-page ads at a 50 percent discount on top of the incentive to go to every household in the school district. To our business community’s great credit, we were overwhelmed with ads.
At this point, the newspaper was in great shape editorially. I was covering and writing more than ever, including hard news, breaking news and features, good news, bad news, all news in between. Those issues in February included stories about school district budget cuts, city budget cuts, the Special Olympics torch run through Kuna, the Melba Community Auction, the Kuna Boys & Girls Club, Walgreens’ plans to open in Kuna, a renewed push for an overpass, all of the major topics that Kuna residents seemed to be interested in.
In addition, all of our features were in high gear: News of Neighbors, a new Looking Back history column, Steven Ricks’ column, Nancy Simper’s This Is The Life column, Zeke Speaks, Madge Wylie’s Of This ’N’ That, my Editor’s Notebook, Community Calendar, half-page weather report, crosswords and sudoku, At the Library, Business Spotlight, full-page Service Directory, high school sports, senior columns, students of the week, recipe of the week.
Plus, because we had so many businesses purchase color ads in the ad discount, we had 16 pages of color, meaning many of our photos that normally would have been in black and white could now be run in color.
For that one month, my long-term vision of what I wanted our newspaper to be was realized. The Kuna Melba News hit 40 pages that month, full of news and listings and color photos and ads. And it was all 100 percent local, no fillers, no wire copy, no generic columns or stories, just local news and information about Kuna and Melba.
We were at our peak.
Unfortunately, we all know what comes after the peak.
Despite radio ads and billboards, full-page ads and flyers and mailing sample copies to every household in the school district, we were receiving a trickle of new subscriptions back, not even enough to pay back the money we had spent on the billboard.
This was a disaster. Every morning, as we went to the post office to collect our mail, it was like a kick to the stomach when Nicola would say we didn’t get any new subscriptions that morning.
All that effort, all that work, all for nothing.
And then it hit me. It was my honest-to-God, epiphanic, genuine Oprah Winfrey a-ha moment: This isn’t our fault.
For years and years, the newspaper industry kept blaming itself for its downward spiral. We blamed short-sighted newspaper executives or not enough mugshots in the paper or the stories were too long or the stories were too short, or there wasn’t enough mainstreaming or not enough investigative stories or the paper was too liberal, too boring, too gray, didn’t have a good design.
The newspaper industry for too long acted like an abused spouse. We kept getting abused and battered and we kept saying the same thing: “I’m sorry, it’s my fault, I’m to blame.”
We kept looking for what we were doing wrong that made the public turn away from us. “Why don’t you love me? What did I do wrong?” we would sob every day.
Like a battered spouse, we tiptoed around the answer, closing cabinet doors softly, trying not to burn the dinner, wearing the right clothes.
And then the answer hit me: It’s not me. It’s you.