These changes are not just for fun -- but could turn out to be a blessing

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Posted 2/06/18 (Tue)

Whines & Roses
By Cecile Wehrman

Last week in the Tioga Tribune, a front-page editorial with my byline talked about the future of that newspaper being in jeopardy.
No, it’s not going bankrupt, but it is having trouble operating at the same level it was -- not just financially, but keeping the right level of staff. It’s advertised for sale, even though a buyer is going to be hard to come by.
Here’s what happened: When I tried to effect some staff cutbacks in Tioga at the first of the year, my remaining Tioga staff decided to leave. So now we’re figuring out how to print two newspapers with one staff.
Coming at the same time that we’ve lost two columnists, the Commentary page has already looked different in recent weeks.
In the weeks to come, we’re going to be experimenting with sharing more content between The Journal and Tribune to cut down on the staff time necessary to serve both.
These newspapers have shared a Classified page for years, giving advertisers more bang for their buck. 
The Commentary page, too, runs virtually identically in both papers.
The Neighbors page seems like another natural one to combine, especially now that local correspondents are so hard to find. It’s been impossible to get anyone willing to do Fortuna-Alkabo-Grenora news for The Journal. At the Tribune, there’s a regular columnist doing news from several towns, but it doesn’t have the number of items it once did. 
While folks in Crosby may not know too many people in Tioga, and folks in Ray may know no one in Noonan, no matter how you slice it, putting the neighbors news together from both papers gives everyone more folks to read about. And there’s no doubt there’s some crossover in acquaintance between the towns. Plus, we’re paying someone to generate that news, why not run it as widely as possible?
How about our professional page? The advertisers on our professional page are trying to get the word out about their businesses. Some of them are unique, not just in the Tioga or Crosby area, but to the region. It’s the most economical advertising we have -- just $7 a week per square, for a 13-week run. 
This week, that page is combined, and unless there’s a large hue and cry asking us to stop doing it that way, I think it’s actually kind of cool that all of those businesses are getting the added value of wider notice for the same price.
How about legal notices or city minutes and public notices? I’ve had the unique vantage point of being able to become pretty familiar with the workings of city government in Crosby, Tioga and Ray, simply by dint of having edited both papers for so long. It’s quite fascinating, the different personalities and business styles of each group. Should those pages be combined too?
They’re not combined this week, but there are times when they certainly could be.
How about the obituary page? There are a fair number of people who run obituaries in both of our papers. If we ran all of the obituaries for both papers on a shared page, everyone would get double coverage for one price. So that’s likely something we’ll try in the future, too.
You can see where this is headed, can’t you? Why not just have one newspaper?
Frankly, that’s an idea I’ve tossed around for many years -- since even before I owned Journal Publishing. 
But it only makes sense if existing subscribers feel like they’re getting added value. In Crosby, I would hope people would feel that’s the case. In Tioga and Ray, it may feel like less of a good thing, since receiving The Journal is not the same as receiving a newspaper with “Tioga Tribune” at the top of the mast.
This is a challenging time, regardless.
We’ve lost a newspaper pioneer, John Andrist, who, while long since done with day-to-day involvement in the business, provided sage counsel whenever asked. Now the company his son sold to me five-and-a-half years ago needs to find a new norm in the age of digital disruption. 
Luckily, I still have the benefit of input from Steve Andrist, and from numerous other newspaper professionals who have offered their ideas on how best to proceed given the fact running one newspaper from afar has become such a challenge. I don’t have all the answers yet. We may try a variety of ways to keep serving the Tioga area while adding value to The Journal, but one thing is certain: Journal Publishing has a solid future.
In fact, if we were to combine the two newspapers, the resulting publication would have a subscriber base that exceeds the Williston Herald!
Really? Yes, really.
While change is in some ways frightening, when you look at the economies of scale and the similarities between these like-minded populations that make up The Journal and Tioga Tribune, you really have to wonder if one publication makes more sense.
I’d love to hear what you think. Write me at: cecilew@crosbynd.com.