Local news is in a stronger position now than a few months ago

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The dust is settling from our April 1 purchase of the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune and Cherokee Chronicle Times, so it seems an apt time to report on what condition our condition is in.

We think we broke even over the past couple months.

It’s hard to tell precisely as bills we didn’t know about continue to plop on John’s desk, and the unravelling of newspapers from their former corporate chain can leave chunks of income floating in the great betwixt until it gets pinned down.

We have made great progress without losing money. To wit:

• The Storm Lake Times Pilot absorbed all staff who wanted a job, and lifted pay.

• We added a sports editor at the Cherokee Chronicle Times. Adam Dublinske is doing a great job. Cherokee had been without a sports editor for some time, and relied on old hand Denny Holton to pinch hit. We will add a news reporter at Cherokee when we can find someone who wants to stay in Northwest Iowa.

• I finally bought a new chair from Carey’s Furniture. The old one that I used for the last 25 years led to arthritis in my behind and the naugahide was cracked.

• We bought a Ford E-Transit electric van after our cube truck got crumpled by a deer. In a month we have saved more than $1,000 in fuel costs hauling newspapers from the printing plant in Spencer back to Storm Lake and area post offices. The savings pays for the van purchase.

• We sold the Chronicle Times building along Hwy. 59 in downtown Cherokee to Adam and Whitney Miller. They are rehabbing the huge building into offices and residential, and plan to restore its historic look (it got covered in blond brick façade with that 1970s misadventure). The Chronicle Times will stay put and pay cheap rent. A lot of historic renovation is restoring Cherokee’s downtown, and this will be another contribution.

• We’ve added pages and color to the Storm Lake Times Pilot and the Cherokee Chronicle Times. It’s paying off: Subscriptions are growing significantly in Storm Lake and steadily in Cherokee. Also, digital subscriptions now account for fully a quarter of our circulation revenue. It doubled from last May.

• We have not raised subscription or advertising rates despite offering a bigger product with many more readers than before.

• We’re doing more special sections that add even more value to the newspaper.

• We are doing more public interest and feature reporting between Tom Cullen, Paul Struck, Dolores Cullen and Jake Kurtz. We are devoting more space than ever to discussion of local issues on our Opinion pages, and are happy that former Pilot Tribune Editor Dana Larsen pens a column.

We’re not cutting the fatted calf yet. The sales folks are giving it all they got (although publishers would always like them to sell even more). The Ad Guide and Cherokee Area Advertiser are supporting the newspapers. We remain convinced that a strong local news operation must be predicated on readers being the primary source of sustenance through their subscriptions and donations.

Thanks to the Western Iowa Journalism Foundation and donors like you, we are in a strong position to justify your support.

Last May, we lost $9,000. This May, operations crept into the black. John put that income statement under his pillow and slept well on it.

We believe that the newspaper industry in general, and Storm Lake and Cherokee in particular, hit bottom during the pandemic. Because of your backing, we survived by our chinny chins.

With your continued support we plan to run even more pages in both newspapers. We intend to hire a bilingual reporter in the next year as revenue allows. We will continue to enhance pay, because the industry needs to make up lost ground to attract talent to rural areas. We also must continue to expand our journalism online. We’re working on that. Soon, we will introduce an app for digital readers (John and I do not know quite what an app does, but these kids understand it). We will work on more digital sports offerings — we now have Jamie Knapp, Adam Dublinske, Jake Kurtz and Denny Holton covering Lakes Conference and area teams. We will do more online going forward.

We can do that only with your subscriptions and donations. Please consider a gift to the Western Iowa Journalism Foundation, which also supports other independent newspapers in the region. Send us your news, photos and letters to the editor. Thanks for reading. Call 712-732-4991 to get the truth, the time and a subscription. We’re doing fine, thanks to you. Much better than before. Full steam ahead.

Art Cullen is publisher of the Cherokee Chronicle Times. If you would like to donate to the Western Iowa Journalism Foundation to support local reporting, please call Art or see www.westerniowajournalismfoundation.com.

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