By Mike Wilcox
When it comes to my profession, I am asked one question over and over. That being “Why in the world would you invest money in a dying industry- the newspaper business?”
I could come up with all kinds of statistical information or intelligent sounding answers, but quite frankly, the most sensible reason for me is that it is the only business I know. You see I grew up in the weekly newspaper business- my father was a publisher and a politician- and I have been in the newspaper business, mostly as an owner, for 99% of my adult life.
And then I must admit I really can’t do anything else. I couldn’t be a laborer. I can’t pound a nail straight for the life of me. I have great difficulty changing a tire on a vehicle, let alone the oil under the hood. I’m at a loss with a lawnmower if it doesn’t start after the first pull.
I tried once to run a retail store, but ended up making my prices too low to make a profit. Many said I should follow in my father’s footsteps and run for office, but my shyness wouldn’t allow me to campaign effectively. I did go to law school, briefly, but found the intense studying to conflict with my family life.
So it has always been to my fallback position- the weekly newspaper. In 2009, when I came back to Michigan from Florida, I purchased the Clare County Review. Then four years later I added the Marion Press. In 2015 it was the LaFayette Sun, and then a year later the Allegan County News, Saugatuck-Douglas Commercial Record and Plainwell-Otsego Union Enterprise.
But again, I get the question, only worded in a different way, “why your age and in these terrible times for newspapers, “Why would you buy one, let alone six?”
If you know your geography you will realize a common thread- all six are in rural areas. I have found people in rural areas still enjoy their weekly newspaper. They like to feel the dirty ink on their hands and read it from cover to cover while enjoying their morning coffee. In urban areas this is not necessarily the case. Everyone has high speed internet and many prefer reading their newspaper via tablet or cell phone. Please shoot me dead if I ever entertain buying a newspaper in an urban area. None of them seem to work anymore.
And I fully suspect the window for printed newspapers, even in rural areas is closing. Personally I give it ten to fifteen years. At that point, many of us who grew up with the newspaper in hand will be dead and the younger generations will have turned to websites to get their daily or weekly dose of news.
Newspapers won’t die they just won’t be available in printed form. Heck many, mostly dailies have already committed all their resources to electronic delivery. It won’t be long until weeklies follow, that is if they can stay in business long enough to make the transition.
I have no doubt my little newspaper group will be just fine. My staffs are forever thinking about the future. We have terrific websites at The Clare County Review, The Marion Press and the Allegan County News. We have just launched a new and improved website at The LaFayette Sun and will be doing the same in a week at the Commercial Record. In a month the Union Enterprise website will follow.
We don’t intend to give up our print versions. Those will be around for a good long time. However we will be devoting a lot of resources to making our websites a valuable source of information for those wanting local news.
The weekly newspaper business is no longer what it was in the 1980’s when some called it a “license to steal.” It really was the only game in town for many businesses who needed to advertise products and services. Now with the internet, all that has changed. Competition exists on every corner.
You can be assured, we will not be deterred. Eventually we will transform to electronic delivery but in the meantime we will continue to publish some of the best weekly newspapers this side of the Mississippi. For that, I give you my word.