The end of the line for print
This is simultaneously the easiest and hardest editorial I’ll probably ever write.
Cutting to the chase, March 16 is the last print edition of the Point/Plover Metro Wire. It is not, however, the end. We’re going back to our roots, continuing online 24/7 — and better than ever.
Since, arguably, nobody is harder on themselves than an Irish Catholic, I can imagine what you’re thinking.
It’s a hell of a thing, creating a news company out of thin air, especially as an underdog in competition with a legacy newspaper from Gannett and a shopper’s guide that can [somehow] afford to hit every doorstep in Portage County.
Add to that the massive and fast-paced challenges facing the news industry — even well-established news companies are not immune to the three biggest issues facing modern news reporting: Facebook, advertising, and staffing.
Regular readers of the Metro Wire are well-informed on these issues, as we’ve written about it often. Social media is a tremendous problem for the Portage Co. news industry, as local municipal agencies tend to use it, Facebook especially, to skip over — or outright compete with — the press. Fewer eyeballs on our news sites translate into fewer advertising dollars, which then translates into fewer people on staff.
Though Facebook is the bane of a news editor’s existence, the crux of our problem is simple: We can’t find reporters to hire. Because of this, myself and reporter Patrick Lynn have been working an unrealistic number of hours each week to keep our weekly print editions going. Yes, we have a staff of two. At least half of our 80-plus-hour workweeks were being devoted to the print edition. That means a lower quality of reporting overall, because nobody can keep up that pace.
Not long ago, I received my wakeup call on how insane this pace was. It took an ambulance ride to St. Mike’s. It took a doctor telling a roomful of medical staff that I needed to be checked for a pulmonary embolism as I watched my blood pressure monitor display the numbers 209/199.
After the crisis passed, and I was admitted in the cardiac unit, I realized how irrational my initial response to this health event was: instead of calling family, I emailed the director of the Portage Co. Business Council, from the emergency room, to explain why I wouldn’t make it to the ribbon-cutting that day.
While my actions were ridiculous, my thinking was not. The news industry is made up of thousands of people, but more than that, it is an institution. One of the four pillars of democracy, to my mind. People rely on us to consistently report the news in a thorough and fact-based manner. In smaller communities like those in Portage Co., when journalists are lost — be it from company downsizing, leaving by choice, or being transferred — it makes a much larger impact than it might in a big city.
Between all of the print publications in the area, Portage Co. has lost a dozen trained journalists in the past five years alone. Full-time positions that have not been refilled. And boy, is it ever showing. Shenanigans aplenty in various local governmental bodies. Bickering elected officials. People coming to municipal meetings complaining that they didn’t know about pending projects. Folks turning to Facebook with no other idea of where to look for information — and often, getting incomplete, or inaccurate, information.
We’ve searched across the county for folks with some measure of journalism training. We’ve even reached out to local educational institutions seeking hungry cubs eager to earn their chops.
Our efforts were further hampered with the delivery delays by the United States Postal Service. Print editions were delivered to the Stevens Point Post Office every Thursday, but still took as many as eight days to be delivered four blocks away. Many of you are well aware of this problem, because you’ve called to complain.
But, as editor, the buck stops with me. This decision is mine to own. Based on experience, I fully believe it will result in a far better quality of reporting. As a reader, you can also forget about having to wait for the print edition because we’ll be sending all the day’s news directly to your inbox each morning and evening.
Spending more time on our digital presence will help us grow much faster and larger than we have been over the past 18 months of print.
If you have a current home delivery subscription, the news is good for you: Your subscriptions have been transferred to lifetime digital access, meaning you’ll never pay another dime for the Metro Wire online. Watch your inboxes for those details.
So, this isn’t goodbye. It’s not even “See ya later.” It’s “We’ll see you online,” or, “Give us a call.” We’re always available to our readers, because it’s you who have supported us. We simply can’t thank you enough, but we’ll sure try.