May 2, 1994. I remember it like it was yesterday. First thing in the morning, Sandy Bohn poked her head in the newsroom. “Ted’s coming. He wants everyone in the pressroom right away.”
That couldn’t be good. Ted (I can’t even remember his last name) was a bigwig with American Publishing, The Evening Sun’s corporate owner of only a couple months. If he was coming to Norwich, before deadline, something must be up. Something bad.
Ted rounded us up in the pressroom, which at the time was in our old headquarters on Hale Street, and delivered his news quickly and with nary a word of explanation or comfort. “We’ve sold The Evening Sun to Dick Snyder of the Pennysaver here in Norwich.”
Though 15 years have passed, I distinctly recall the look of shock – and in some cases abject horror – on the faces of my Evening Sun brethren. You could hear a pin drop in the pressroom as we each contemplated our fates. Sold. Again. For the second time in six months. To the Pennysaver.
At the time, I didn’t really know what that would mean. While I’d never met Dick Snyder, I certainly knew about the Pennysaver, and the fear and loathing it struck in the hearts of our sales staff. It would have been the same for my editorial staff as if we’d been sold to the Binghamton Press. We were being swallowed by the enemy.
We all went back to our business of putting out that day’s paper, waiting with great trepidation for Dick and Jeanne Brightman to come over to address the troops later that morning. We got the perfunctory “welcome to the company” and “no immediate changes” speech, but no one was put at ease. Even when Dick told me and my staff that it was our recent editorial resurgence which in part made us an attractive acquisition for his company, we still waited for the other shoe to drop.
It never did, of course. Well, at least not for the news team. Some of my colleagues in advertising didn’t fare as well, but that’s the nature of the business. It didn’t take me long to realize what I’ve since preached to every job candidate I’ve interviewed – that local ownership is the key to our success.
In my two decades with The Evening Sun, I’ve worked for three different owners. The first was Park Communications out of Ithaca, a newspaper chain whose unwritten motto was “Park never sells.” That is, until Uncle Roy kicked the bucket and his heirs sold off the company, piece by piece. That’s when American Publishing came in, picking up The Evening Sun in a package buy that was akin to getting Baltic when you’re really after Park Place.
Having worked for far away, bottom-line obsessed corporate owners who had no clue about the community we were doing business in, I can tell you it’s no walk in the Park, pun intended. What happened to this newspaper in the 1970s was the same affliction I blame for Norwich’s industrial downfall – local interests selling out to absentee corporate overlords. The pharmacy, the mill, the newspaper – no good ever came from selling a homegrown company to a greedy corporate giant. For a company to truly succeed in a small town, it has to remain close to its roots.
And that, I believe, is why we’re still here, 15 years this month after Snyder Communications returned Chenango County’s Hometown Daily to Chenango County. I’ve always believed that hyper-local interest is what makes this business survive, and the best way to do that is to ensure that your bottom line also depends on the success of that local community. A newspaper is as tied into the fabric of a healthy community as a hospital, a school or a well-run government. We’re lucky to be here.
If you look at nationwide statistics within the publishing industry, a community Norwich’s size shouldn’t still have a daily newspaper. It’s a rarity, as is the fact that we’re locally owned and operated. Given the state of journalism across the country, I feel lucky to have a job in the press at all – and even more lucky to be doing it in my hometown.