PUBLISHER'S NOTEBOOK: Bottom line not only about finances
Tuesday, March 27, 2012 5:58 AM
"I remember your name. It was on my list," said an elderly man after scanning my name badge at the Minnesota Newspaper Association convention earlier this year.
"What list is that?" asked my wife, who seemed a bit fearful of the man that had a wild look in his eyes, appeared somewhat disheveled and, worst of all, had threatened her with a grammar test earlier in the day.
It turns out he isn't a weirdo, as his first impression may give. He's a Wordo, also known as an English language super sleuth, or part of a group of about 20 persons who meet once a month to talk about our English language. These people, most of them retired from the newspaper industry, call themselves the Wordos and come out in force at the convention to try to spread their love of and respect for the English language.
Of course, some people would find that lofty ideal weird and many would be threatened if someone approached them to test their knowledge of grammar, spelling and style. At a newspaper convention, though, he fits right in, at least among the editors and writers.
In response to my wife's question about the list, he explained that he kept a list of publishers who were also writers. Even when this man, Robert Shaw, was more involved in the management of the association a couple decades ago, the list wasn't long, which is why he remembered my name.
Publishers come from many backgrounds. Some of the really old-time publishers started the business on the printing side. That's rare now as printing is more complicated and specialized, so much so that most newspapers send their publications elsewhere to be printed.
Others are successful advertising salespeople that move up into management. Still others come up through the business side or out of business school, which is more common now.
Few come up through the editorial side because the management of a business can be a challenge for someone who feels more comfortable dealing with the nuances of the English language.
All those varied backgrounds lead to some interesting differences. I remember one area publisher, a man very focused on the bottom line, talking about another publisher, who, like me, has a writing background, saying with a hearty laugh, "he's got a beautiful paper and wins a lot of awards, but he doesn't make any money, does he?"
That's a dilemma for publishers that come up through the editorial side. Although newspapers may seem like a service to disseminate information through writing, photography and graphics, they are private businesses, not non-profit entities. That means no matter your background, you have to learn about business to remain in business.
My education in business came while on the job after I had spent several years as a writer and editor. I would have to say fear was a motivation for learning. If my business didn't succeed, I wouldn't be able to write and shoot photos anymore - at least not in the capacity I desired - so I had to make sure my bottom line stayed in the black.
While the term bottom line moved into a prominent place in my consciousness, I never narrowed my focus so much that it became the only concern like it did for the one publisher who spoke condescendingly about the editor/publisher. I still like to take some type of role in the creative side of this business.
Also, being an owner allows me some leeway on what our newspapers can support. For example, I can make the business decision, one that isn't necessarily good for the bottom line, to support youth that have an interest in developing their creative talents.
That's why for years, one of our newspapers has provided extensive space for journalism students at Lanesboro school free of charge.
More recently, a Kingsland student came in to ask about the possibility of starting a column for poetry and other creative works. Her mother had warned her that I would probably say no, but after some consideration, my editor and I decided to give it a go. Creative Ink is now a regular feature in another newspaper of ours.
If my only concern was the financial bottom line, I know there has to be more profitable industries that would make it much easier to accumulate wealth. As someone who deals with language on a regular basis can tell you, though, wealth can be defined in more ways than just accumulating riches. I want to encourage a wealth of creativity for my staff leading to a wealth of information for our readers.
I guess that inexact business practice works, at least good enough, because I have been able to keep my business going for more than two decades. I know I don't have a real line for creative pursuits in my real financial spreadsheet that leads to my real bottom line, but if for some reason I ever had to remove that component of my business, I wouldn't merely take myself off Shaw's list, I would get out of this business completely.
For now, it's nice to combine pleasure with business as well as encourage young people to follow their creative spirit. My hope is that some day their names will appear on such a list.