Thursday, November 21, 2013

Downsizing the news

11/20/13 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Downsizing the news

I came to work for the Cottage Grove Sentinel in 1996. I, who knew nothing about office work, was under the tutelage of a woman who was incredibly patient with me. Over and over again she explained to me how the new-fangled computers in the office worked. I was a slow learner so it was a great relief when a computer-savvy employee came to work with us as we answered phones and kept things humming. However, for a long time we weren’t completely computerized.

In those pre-computer days, it took a whole slew of employees in every department to put out the paper. There were three of us in the front office plus a couple of people in charge of circulation. Most classified ads and billing were done by hand. Jody Rolnick, a reporter and editor extraordinaire, had been promoted to publisher. Brad Chambers, our ad manager, along with his sidekick Kathy Boykin, kept things humming along in the ad department. The newsroom was composed of an editor, reporter, sports editor, news intern and full-time photographer.

Hard working, award-winning editors came and went, along with many interns from the UO. Robin Bachtler Cushman and Rebekah-mae Bruns were our outstanding photographers in a pre-digital age. First they shot the most amazing, award winning pictures. Then they went into the darkroom, developed and printed their masterpieces.

All of our work—news and photos—was turned over to a variety of people in composing. Once the cutting and pasting was done our work was trundled by one of us in the company van up to the Springfield News on Tuesday morning to be printed. That evening the papers were brought back to C.G. for distribution by school kids and mail. Now all issues are delivered by mail, a costly process.

Some years circulation teams were hired to sit in the back room to solicit new subscribers. It was always a hubbub of activity for the couple of weeks they spent with us. They also called people to remind them about subscription renewals. The process was expensive but it paid off in increased readership.

In 1999, Finn John (an editor with vision and chutzpah!) hired me to be the “society editor.” He had this grand idea to return the Sentinel to the days when social news was important. The job fit me like a glove. To me it wasn’t work. It was a great joy to write three columns a week—Cook’s Corner, The Chatterbox and Neighborhood News—plus the occasional front-page story.  I covered stories, typed and kept track of births, marriages, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations and any animal related calls. I loved every minute of it.

I remember those days fondly and that was just a few short years ago. Sadly, things have changed dramatically. Today everything is computerized and people aren’t as necessary for the bottom line.

As readers and advertisers take their classified ads to Craigslist and other online venues, newspapers like The Oregonian and Register Guard are hanging on by their fingernails. This summer, after decades of award winning success (including a Pulitzer Prize), The Oregonian dismissed over 200 employees and reduced its newsroom by 25 percent. Production is still seven days a week but home deliveries were cut to four days a week!

Of course, business is business and the bills have to be paid but less workers means there’s another price to pay. Quality on every level, including customer service, will inevitably suffer when any business is understaffed. The C.G. Sentinel, like so many others, is also a shell of its former self. Hours and budgets have been cut and one person, instead of many, staffs each department.

Nothing is better than a print newspaper. Sure, we can listen to the news on the radio, read it on-line or watch it on television but it’s very impersonal. Holding a newspaper in your hand triggers a connection between you and the story, a writer or a local business. If you’re reading this you are one of the few who support a traditional 125-year-old newspaper. Thank you! We appreciate and need you.

As for me, I am among the downsized. My columns will now be published twice monthly. But writer-reader relationships remain the same. So please keep in touch! Perhaps it's time for an expansion of this blog!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.