Following the announcement by The Florida Times Union that they would begin the practice of charging for their online edition, I made the prediction that it wouldn’t be long before their sister publication, The St Augustine Record, would follow suit. Today, Delinda Fogel confirmed that my prediction would come true on Sunday, November 3rd.
In 2001, complaining of cramped space for the printing function and inadequate parking for their employees at The Record building on Cordova Street, Morris Communications Corporation packed up the newspaper and moved out of the city; to its newly constructed 38,000 square-foot operations center and additional 18,000 square-foot warehouse building on SR-207. Today, The Record building is like a morgue; once state-of-the-art printing operations are long gone.
The Record has not been printed in St Augustine since the operations locally were shut down and moved to Jacksonville in 2009. Each year since Morris acquired the property and built the buildings, they have paid less and less in property taxes on it. Taxes in 2003 were $175,337 — by 2011 they had fallen to $116,113. But last year, Morris was only billed $67,958 in property taxes — a nearly 50% drop in taxes in one year’s time.
January 4, 2010, Times-Union sales and marketing vice president, Ron Davidson, took the reins as publisher of the St Augustine Record. Two weeks later, on January 19, 2010, Florida Publishing Company succumbs to bankruptcy under the ownership of Morris Publishing Group, LLC. About two-thirds of their debt was forgiven in the process — they go from about $300 million in debt to about $100 million in debt with the stroke of a pen.
Davidson announced that he was stepping down in February; and, on June 3rd of this year, Fogel became the latest Times-Union employee to become publisher at what remains of The Record. Fogel has worked for the company since 2008 and was employed as finance and “strategic planning” vice president in Jacksonville.
Four months on the job, without offering any facts or figures to back her claim, Fogel writes that the newspaper is fortunate to have “strong support from local businesses, advertisers and readers”. Really?
Fogel goes on to say, “Until very recently, newspapers have depended on advertising revenue to provide a majority of the total revenue.” No secrets there. Especially take a look at mandated legal advertising revenue; still in place because of antiquated laws that do nothing more than subsidize the remaining print newspapers still in business.
The published advertising rates at the St Augustine Record are some of the highest in St Augustine and St Johns County — they have continued to rise as their audience has continued to dwindle. Are advertisers getting the same value for their advertising dollars? If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, does it still make a sound?
Fogel admits, or by conjecture, surmises, that some 20 to 25 percent of total revenues at the newspaper come from reader subscriptions and newsstand sales. Not enough! The City of St Augustine, in addition to buying unnecessary subscriptions for certain employees, spends tens of thousands of dollars each year in legal ads and announcements; even though they can be ineffective — Florida law says they must place those ads in a printed newspaper. The county spends several times more than the city, but can’t decide to spend our tax dollars somewhere more effective, less expensive, or that doesn’t contribute to landfill waste or the poisoning of the environment with toxic ink contaminants because of a law that should have sunset years ago.
So, Fogel’s strategic planning background tells her that she can fix The Record’s financial woes by charging the smallest contributor to her total revenue to read the on-line version of the local mullet wrapper. This is a newspaper that is so roundly criticized by local residents for its inaccuracies, misspellings, and retractions as to be the brunt of jokes in offices, restaurants and gatherings all over town. The decreasing amount of local news in favor of syndicated content, and blunders at the hands of inexperienced reporters, writers and editors that simply aren’t familiar with our community, has driven readers into the waiting arms of radio and television broadcasters and Internet news organizations, like Historic City News.
In my opinion, as stated regularly in our weekday news journal, I don’t believe readers should have to pay for news. Advertisers and sponsors pay us to get their message in front of our audience. Our job is to fill the stands; our advertisers can sell the popcorn.
What the newspaper needs to be concerned about is rebuilding their audience; lost to the many alternative news sources that have done nothing but grow over the past ten years.
In the interim, you can continue to count on Historic City News, read and research on historiccity.com, comment on our facebook at historiccitynews.com, and follow us on twitter.com/historiccity for news as it happens. If we continue to have the support of sponsors and advertisers, we will continue to bring your local news and opinions free of subscription fees.