Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » How do you survive or thrive in a down economy?


I'm giving the opening remarks at the monthly Victoria chamber of commerce luncheon on Wednesday. Hope to see you there. I believe supporting our local businesses is one of the best things we can do for our community.

To test my speech, I'll share a preview of it here. I welcome your suggestions. The theme of the talk is "Power Through Today's Economy and Prosper." I leave it to our general manager, Brenda Miller-Fergerson, to offer the business advice. I set the stage with remarks about the growth in our audience and why that matters to local businesses.

Thank you for having us here today. I regularly attend these monthly meetings because I enjoy talking with the businesspeople who make our community go. I feel privileged to work at a company so central to the success of so many businesses in the Crossroads region. Truly, we at the Advocate consider ourselves to be your business partners.

In my opening remarks, I want to dispel the notion that a community newspaper is a dinosaur. It's more than a little ironic for a newspaperman to complain about news coverage, but I find it necessary to paraphrase Mark Twain and say, "Reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated."

Unquestionably, we're in the middle of the worst economy since the Great Depression. That's hurt our business and your businesses. The two are so intertwined that when you sneeze, we catch a cold. Of course, when times are good, we're all healthy and happy.

Even in this bad economy, the Advocate remains a profitable company with a healthy future. The trouble you read about mainly affects big-city newspapers, which are truly suffering. They are hurting for these main reasons:

-- Most are publicly traded companies used to years of ridiculously high profit margins.

-- These companies took on huge debt, betting foolishly on large levels of cash flow that would never end. When times got tougher, these companies couldn't service their debt.

-- Only about 15 percent of a big-city newspaper's content is unique. That means readers can find the rest of the information in these big, fat papers from other sources such as the Internet.

In contrast, more than 50 percent of a community newspaper's content is unique. We celebrate when all of our section fronts contain only local stories. We know our franchise is local, local, local.

The Advocate's other key strengths are our local ownership and our manageable debt. Because of this, we're able to take the long-term view and not make short-sighted decisions based on this quarter's earnings report.

Most of you know the Advocate's owners, the McHaney and Roberts families. Kay McHaney and John Roberts are remarkable people following in the proud tradition of community service set by their father, Morris Roberts. At 163 years old, the Advocate is the second-oldest daily newspaper in Texas, second only to Galveston.

That's a huge competitive advantage for us because we're in the business of creating community connections and doing the right thing for our readers and advertisers. This comes much more naturally to a newspaper that's locally owned and locally focused. It's no coincidence the Advocate has received the top public service award for two years in a row from the state's premier press association.

Fortunately, the McHaney and Roberts tradition is carrying on to the third generation, which is bringing an exciting new vision to the Advocate. We're as progressive as any newspaper out there in terms of our commitment to the digital future. Our Web traffic is up 55 percent year over year. We have, by far, the most vibrant Web site in the Crossroads region.

Meanwhile, our print reach remains among the best in the nation. Within Victoria County, we reach nine out of 10 people through print or online. Within the nine-county region, we reach seven out of 10 people. No other medium in the Crossroads comes even remotely close to delivering that audience for businesses.

Why does this matter to you? Because our success is tied to your success and to the community's health. I'll let our general manager, Brenda Miller-Fergerson, tell you more about ways we can help you grow your business even during tough times. She also will tell you what animal the Advocate much more closely resembles than a dinosaur.