So this is good­bye

Wisconsin Gazette - - Pub­lisher’s Note - By Louis Weis­berg Pub­lisher/Edi­tor in Chief

I’ve dreaded that the day would come when I’d have to write that this is our fi­nal is­sue. But that day is here.

Our read­er­ship has grown more than I ever imag­ined, and the ac­co­lades we’ve re­ceived from our peers have been nu­mer­ous and hum­bling. The level of en­gage­ment we’ve had with read­ers has been ex­tra­or­di­nary.

But we are an ad­ver­tiser-sup­ported medium, and it’s be­come clear that we can­not fo­cus on putting out a qual­ity newsprint pub­li­ca­tion in Mil­wau­kee and hope to break even fi­nan­cially.

We are not alone. Many daily news­pa­pers and other al­ter­na­tive pub­li­ca­tions are strug­gling for sur­vival. And many have turned to other sources of rev­enue to com­pen­sate for re­duced ad­ver­tis­ing in­come. They stage events such as taco fests to raise ad­di­tional funds. Ven­dors pay for ex­hi­bi­tion space and the pub­lic pays to at­tend. The pub­li­ca­tion is able to use it­self to widely pro­mote the event.

An eter­nally pop­u­lar way of boost­ing rev­enue is spon­sor­ing “best of” pop­u­lar­ity con­tests. The win­ners are not ac­tu­ally the “best” in their niches, but rather the busi­nesses or per­son­al­i­ties that do the best job of get­ting peo­ple to vote for them.

The win­ners are in­cented to buy ads cel­e­brat­ing their vic­to­ries. Many pub­li­ca­tions give them dis­counts on those ads as a way of “rec­og­niz­ing” their vic­to­ries. The win­ners also proudly dis­play their cer­tifi­cates on the walls of their busi­nesses. It’s a great way to strengthen re­la­tion­ships with cur­rent and prospec­tive ad­ver­tis­ers.

The Shep­herd Ex­press has been pub­lish­ing very pop­u­lar an­nual “best-of” lists for decades. So we felt that base was cov­ered and, re­gard­less, it’s not some­thing any of us wanted to take on.

Some pa­pers sell mer­chan­dise on their web­sites. We made a half-hearted at­tempt at that, but it failed. Other pa­pers de­liver food, sell tick­ets and pro­vide other ser­vices.

I’m not throw­ing shade at new rev­enue sources. If those tech­niques are help­ing to keep jour­nal­ism alive, I’m all for them. I do, how­ever, draw the line at sell­ing sto­ries that are not marked as “spon­sored” con­tent.

But I don’t be­lieve we could have main­tained our stan­dards by ex­pand­ing in those ways. They would have stretched our re­sources even thin­ner, and the prospect of in­vest­ing in such side busi­nesses would in­cur yet more risk. Most im­por­tantly, CEO Leonard Sobczak and I had no in­ter­est in them. We got into this busi­ness to sup­port pro­gres­sive think­ing and causes, as well as to bring pro­gres­sive ac­tivists to­gether.

While I feel tremen­dous sor­row about clos­ing, I’m try­ing to fo­cus on how well we suc­ceeded at pro­duc­ing a pop­u­lar, qual­ity pub­li­ca­tion for nearly nine years, with only a tiny staff and never-end­ing — but al­ways sur­pris­ing — chal­lenges, par­tic­u­larly in find­ing skilled, com­mit­ted sales reps. Sadly, we faced un­der­handed high jinks — not only from ho­mo­phobes and the rad­i­cal right, but also from other me­dia com­pet­ing for ad dol­lars.

I hope we’ve made a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence through the in­for­ma­tion, opin­ions and ideas we’ve shared with south­east­ern Wis­con­sin’s large pro­gres­sive com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially those peo­ple work­ing for LGBTQ equal­ity, a clean and sus­tain­able en­vi­ron­ment, an­i­mal wel­fare, women’s choice, racial and eco­nomic jus­tice, im­mi­grant rights and an end to the mas­sive fraud and cor­rup­tion this state has en­dured for nearly eight years.

Also im­por­tant to me is the work we’ve done to help bol­ster the per­form­ing arts. The qual­ity of Mil­wau­kee’s en­ter­tain­ment groups and venues is sec­ond to none among cities its size. The lo­cal mu­sic scene is bring­ing new en­ergy and young peo­ple to the city.

It’s been an honor to share in-depth cov­er­age of our ven­er­a­ble vis­ual and per­form­ing arts in­sti­tu­tions, as well as the many smaller per­form­ing groups that show­case new tal­ent and ex­pose the re­gion to an as­ton­ish­ing range of cul­tural en­rich­ment through the­ater, mu­sic and dance.

With the small space af­forded to the arts in the Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel, I hate know­ing there will be one less source to en­gage and il­lu­mi­nate au­di­ences.

I also worry that the clos­ing of yet an­other print pub­li­ca­tion will reaf­firm lo­cal ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies’ aver­sion to print, which is a medium they just don’t know how to uti­lize any­more. We’re caught in a self-per­pet­u­at­ing cy­cle

in which ad­ver­tis­ers are aban­don­ing print be­cause they’re be­ing told by ad agen­cies that it’s dead, even though niche pub­li­ca­tions like ours re­main pop­u­lar with large swaths of read­ers, both in print and on­line.

Peo­ple pick up a pub­li­ca­tion by choice, be­cause they want to read it. And ads in pub­li­ca­tions, if they’re good ones, are part and par­cel of the pub­li­ca­tion’s con­tent. Well-de­signed ads with strong calls to ac­tion get at­ten­tion. When they’re art­fully done, they also make the pub­li­ca­tion look bet­ter. That syn­ergy can be a beau­ti­ful thing, even in newsprint.

We’ve put a lot of ef­fort into our award­win­ning web­site and very ac­tive Face­book page, so we’re in­ti­mately aware of the strengths and weak­nesses of both me­dia. In the past, they’ve worked for some ad­ver­tis­ers, es­pe­cially when used in con­junc­tion with a print com­po­nent. But dig­i­tal and so­cial me­dia have be­come so sat­u­rated with ad­ver­tis­ing that it’s hard for busi­nesses to stand out. In fact, now that print ad­ver­tis­ing is less pop­u­lar, ads get more at­ten­tion, even if fewer eyes, than they could amid the clut­ter of dig­i­tal me­dia.

And, un­like dig­i­tal me­dia, print of­fers an aura of re­spectabil­ity that can en­hance an ad­ver­tiser’s im­age.

New me­dia is not new any­more, and it’s out of con­trol. Face­book, for in­stance, played an out­sized role in putting Don­ald Trump in the White House. It spreads lies and sells peo­ple’s per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. Face­book and Google — and their sub­sidiaries, such as In­sta­gram — lit­er­ally are spy­ing on peo­ple.

Fur­ther­more, the un­fet­tered anonymity of dig­i­tal me­dia has given rise to bit­ter po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions, vi­cious rhetoric and in­hu­man­ity.

We tar­geted a de­sir­able au­di­ence that was drawn to the is­sues we cov­ered and the way we cov­ered them. A large num­ber of our read­ers are civi­cally en­gaged — they’re the movers and shak­ers, the the­ater­go­ers, the non­profit vol­un­teers. Many of them fall in the mar­ket­ing cat­e­gory of “in­flu­encers.”

Of all the pub­li­ca­tions I’ve worked for in my con­sid­er­ably long ex­pe­ri­ence, the read­ers we’ve had here are by far the best. I will miss your en­thu­si­asm and re­spon­sive­ness — your kind words and your as­tute crit­i­cism that al­lowed me to con­tinue grow­ing in my work.

I’ve now lived in Mil­wau­kee for a decade, but I’d been here less than a year when we started on this project. With­out the help of so many com­mit­ted read­ers, elected of­fi­cials and peo­ple in­volved with pro­gres­sive non­prof­its and good-gov­ern­ment groups, the past nine years would not have been pos­si­ble. There are far too many peo­ple to thank them all by name, but I think they know who they are.

Print pub­li­ca­tions not only are ef­fec­tive for ad­ver­tis­ing but more im­por­tantly, they’re es­sen­tial to the func­tion­ing of democ­racy.

In places where lo­cal pa­pers have closed, voter par­tic­i­pa­tion has fallen, as has the num­ber of peo­ple run­ning for of­fice. Ac­cord­ing to the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, clos­ing lo­cal pa­pers de­creases the qual­ity of gov­ern­ment and in­creases gov­ern­ment bud­gets, be­cause lo­cal of­fi­cials are not be­ing mon­i­tored. The clos­ings also de­crease the qual­ity of life, be­cause in­sti­tu­tions and de­ci­sion-mak­ers aren’t be­ing ad­e­quately scru­ti­nized.

In­de­pen­dent pa­pers like ours can be par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive be­cause they’re not gov­erned by the in­ter­ests of stock­hold­ers or ex­trem­ist own­ers in the way that an in­creas­ing num­ber of news­pa­per and broad­cast out­lets are.

So, although we’re bow­ing out, I im­plore you not to give up on your lo­cal press. Sup­port it, even when it runs sto­ries or opin­ions you don’t like. If jour­nal­ists are do­ing their jobs well, there are bound to be some peo­ple who don’t like what they write. Some­times things we don’t like hap­pen to be true. Isn’t it bet­ter to know?

The press is not the en­emy of the peo­ple. It’s the neme­sis of tyrants and the friend of truth.

With­out the help of so many com­mit­ted read­ers, elected of­fi­cials and peo­ple in­volved with pro­gres­sive non­prof­its and good-gov­ern­ment groups, the past nine years would not have been pos­si­ble.

The press is not the en­emy of the peo­ple. It’s the neme­sis of tyrants and the friend of truth.

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