We have been uplifted by the many, many people who have written and called to ask what they can do to help The Union Democrat.
As most of you know by now, our parent company, Western Communications, has filed for Chapter 11 protection in federal bankruptcy court. The newspapers in the chain each in their own way — and to suit their own markets — are looking for ways to tighten expenses even as we seek to improve and grow our print and digital products.
It is a much like a puzzle, trying to fit our available pieces into something whole.
At The Union Democrat, we’ve unfortunately had to say goodbye to valued employees. We’ve reduced the workweek for others. We’ve cut the number of hours our customer service department is open and increased the price of our annual subscription.
We’ve also cut the number of pages in each edition.
That sounds like a lot of taking away, but we’re adding, too.
Here’s what’s unchanged: our efforts to give you the best local newspaper we possibly can, emphasis on local.
The pages we cut are usually filled with wire copy — stories from the Associated Press or The New York Times about happenings outside our area and region. Also, the editorial page will appear twice a week. Again, a reduction in our reliance on columns from our wire services and more emphasis on local voices.
Our newsroom has been transformed by reducing the number of editors and page designers and increasing the time journalists can spend reporting and writing. Reporters will write for all sections — health, business, community and sports. In other words, more local news throughout the paper.
Our new digital producer will add breaking news online through the day and help us learn what stories resonate most with readers.
Make no mistake. We remain committed to our printed newspaper. I hear regularly from readers who not only don’t want to read a newspaper online but also don’t have a computer.
Last week when I suggested to a woman who had just told me she was 91 that she emailed a letter to the editor, she was quite adamant about her desire to live life offline. Many will agree with her, I’m sure.
Yet at the same time, it is important for us to ready our website for the future by offering video and photo galleries and a host of other information to give readers a deeper understanding of what’s happening.
We can and must increase what we offer on the web and grow the number of online-only subscriptions. In other words, we must give readers multiple choices about how and when they receive their daily newspaper.
And we must give our visitors access to information about this wonderful place. I once did freelance writing for Down East, a Maine-based monthly magazine. Most of their subscribers lived outside Maine. They had visited, fallen in love with the place and wanted to know what was happening when they weren’t there. I hope our visitors will feel the same.
Many people have asked what they can do. Last week, I suggested buying an ad or subscribing. I’d like to add, send us your story ideas. Enhance our content. Tell us about someone we should be writing about. Become a correspondent. Our little band of journalists only see so much. But with your help, we can see the whole community.
Specifically, I’m looking for situations you’d like us to investigate, stories that show who we are as a community, people who go out of their way to show kindness or are innovative.
When I taught journalism at Furman University in South Carolina, I talked to students at some length about universal themes — love, hate, joy, triumph, tragedy. The stories that touch us, move us to action, educate. Send me those stories.
But here’s the most important thing you can do for us: Please stick with us.
Lyn Riddle is editor of The Union Democrat. Contact her at 209-588-4541 or firstname.lastname@example.org .