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Big change for PJ, Intercom in September

The last year or so has been a challenging one at the Pioneer Journal. As many people know, the majority of newspaper revenues are derived from advertising, and the top advertisers in nearly every newspaper are realtors, car lots, grocery stores and stores that insert shopping flyers. Losing Pamida and both car dealerships, a housing downturn, and the consolidation in our grocery stores each hit us hard. Together, their effect was cumulative. Add to that an overall economic downturn and a soft job market leading to fewer recruitment ad revenue, and we've taken some serious hits -- so much so that people have looked at our own front door on Jefferson Street and wondered whether we were going to close.

We're not going to close.

But we're going to change to meet these new realities. The business model we've followed for nearly 140 years needs updating. In order to bring our revenues and expenses in line, there are only so many things we can do.

First, we had some layoffs and attrition -- and those were painful professionally and personally to lose the good people we did. Those of us left are trying every day to do more with less, and succeeding.

Second, we cut expenses down as low as we could. We eliminated perks, looked hard at every check we wrote, and saved money in any way we could, everything right down to the Friday morning meeting doughnuts. We even have our employees cleaning toilets on the weekends to save money.

Once those cuts were made, we reassessed.

Two options we looked at were raising subscription prices and raising ad rates. But in this economy, we could have lost readers by raising subscriptions and instead kept subscription prices steady. Our circulation has held strong. Raising advertising rates would have squeezed already-strapped local businesses, and we need them to stay strong for us to be strong.

We had to do something to break a vicious circle: ad revenues falling, leading to staff layoffs and less space for news in the paper, leading to more ad revenues falling, and on and on. It's the downward spiral that led to the death of some large metro dailies, and we have no intention of walking down that road with them. Instead of constantly eroding our core product, our newspapers, for short-term budget fixes, we needed to get proactive.

After a thorough analysis and a lot of "thinking outside the box," we're making one more major change that we believe will not only be a benefit to our advertisers and our readers, but position our newspaper so we can survive and thrive another 140 years.

We're moving the Pioneer Journal to the weekend, and it and the weekend Intercom will both come out on Saturday. For those readers of the Pioneer Journal, you'll get a home-delivered product that's hot-off-the-presses with meeting coverage and sporting events through the end of the week. You'll also get all of the ads that are today in the pages of the Intercom, and in your Pioneer Journal, you'll get all of the advertising inserts that would have come in the Intercom. But you will not get the Intercom. Everyone else will get the Intercom, which will be the same as you know it now, complete with all of the ads and inserted sales flyers. Intercom readers will get all of the ads, but none of the news. PJ readers will get all of the ads and all of the news.

While it may seem like a fairly small change to the reader, it will mean big changes behind the scenes to get it done. And we've already started, and we're targeting a mid-September date to roll this out.

We believe this solution is the best for our readers, our advertisers and our staff -- the three groups we try to remember when we make any decision.

The transition may be difficult at first, and there will be kinks to work out. But when we're done, we will have a stable, lean operation that's built for the 21st century and makes the communities we serve proud.