Starting next week, we’re making some major changes to your Junction City Union. These changes will affect your reading habits, and I want to make sure you understand what’s happening and why.
The printed Union will come out once a week, on Tuesdays. We are going to rely more on our website, JunctionCityUnion.com, to deliver timely news and information to our subscribers. This is the way of the future, and it’s time to make the shift.
Next Tuesday, Jan. 19, will be the last published on our current cycle. The next edition, a beefed-up version with many of the features from an entire week, will be published a week after that, on Tuesday, Jan. 26. We expect that to arrive in your Tuesday mail, the same day as publication. It will include all the local reporting we’re currently doing, and we anticipate improvements in the future.
We are dropping the monthly price of a subscription to $12, down 25 percent. That means we will provide you with a service that delivers a product to your home for pennies per day. We recognize that many of you paid with the expectation of receiving three printed papers a week. We do encourage you to stick with us, which is why we’re dropping the price. If you’ve paid in advance, we will extend your subscription appropriately.
Lower cost online-only options are also available.
This change is a function of long-term trends. It’s also a result of the serious economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic these past nine months.
As you’re probably aware, newspapers like the Union have been supported financially for the past century predominantly by local businesses that bought ads to reach good potential local customers. But in recent decades local businesses have given way to national chains, and those national outfits in the past 10 years have moved their ad budgets increasingly to digital forms. That means, in practical terms, into the pockets of coastal digital giants Facebook and Google.
We knew of those trends when we acquired the Junction City Union in 2018, hoping to build on the proud tradition of the paper under the longtime ownership of the Montgomery family. As the folks in charge of the daily paper 20 miles east, we had admired the success of the Union for generations.
What we couldn’t predict at that time was what 2020 would bring. Local businesses around the Manhattan-Junction City region have been decimated, and our advertising support has declined along with it.
Our news staff at the Union has done a solid job of continuing to provide subscribers with reliable journalism. Our reporters and editors inform the community about itself in a way that nobody else does. Without the newspaper, there’d really be nobody to hold the government accountable.
But I need to acknowledge that we haven’t found the business success that we hoped to, and that’s my fault. We expect that the conversion to a weekly print product, combined with a more robust digital presence, will better fit with the needs of the community for the years and decades to come. We hope to build, not continue to cut; to do that, we will rely more than ever on the support of our subscribers.
Many other newspapers have taken similar steps. We have announced cutting the print schedule in Manhattan to three days a week, down from five, along with a conversion to mail-only delivery. Stillwater, Okla., has the same schedule. Rochester, Minn., has two print papers a week. The newspaper in Little Rock, Ark. -- a city with a population nearly 10 times that of Junction City -- is printed once a week, with daily digital updates. The Kansas City Star has cut one print day, and, as you may have read, is shutting down its massive printing press. The Star and the Wichita Eagle will be printed in Des Moines.
I should note that we are still operating our printing press in Manhattan and can handle a variety of print needs. I don’t anticipate that print will ever entirely go away. Too many people -- myself included -- prefer reading that way, and too many businesses want to use print to reach customers. We also continue to offer a strong variety of services to help businesses reach good potential local customers.
But hard-copy anything is clearly giving way to digital distribution. Nobody goes to pick up VHS tapes at Blockbuster; very few even get Netflix DVDs in the mail anymore. Everybody types in a username and password, and -- bing! -- there’s your service.
These changes to our business I do not relish. I am a fourth-generation print newspaper guy. My first paying gig in life was as a paper boy for The Manhattan Mercury. I can still throw a rubber-banded newspaper underhand, with a slow backward spin, and make it land gently on a customer’s doorstep.
My great-grandfather, Fay N. Seaton, took over the newspaper when he bought the Mercury in 1915, saying he considered the newspaper’s readers his “personal friends,” and that he wanted to serve them well. My dad, Edward Seaton, who still works every day and remains the company chairman, built a new plant and bought a new printing press, and won state and national awards for print quality and journalistic excellence.
When I joined the family business in 1996, the first two projects I took on were the creation of a digital archive for our own purposes and the creation of a website. So I guess the fact that it now falls to me to make a larger step in the digital direction makes some generational sense.
But our goal here at The Union, as I’m confident it always was under previous owners, has been to serve you well. The way we do that is changing, and I suppose will continue to change on into the future. What we hope, more than anything, is that you’ll continue to value the service we provide, whatever form that service happens to take.
That also brings me to a larger point: We intend to continue publishing more news, and publishing it in a more timely fashion, than before. We have a way to deliver that service to you immediately, at no additional cost to you, and at a relatively low additional cost to us.
That delivery method, of course, is the Internet.
On the days when we don’t publish a print edition, we will still be publishing news. If you subscribe to the print edition, we strongly encourage you to get signed up for full digital access, which you get for no additional cost. Need help? We can do it for you. Just e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have questions or comments, I would welcome them as well. You can reach me through that same email address, email@example.com, or the Union office, 785-762-5000, or The Mercury, 785-776-2200.