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We want to be a part of your daily life


(June 1) I saw a very compelling newspaper ad recently that captures the reality of the business world in 1998. It had a bold headline that asked: "Are you living under the threat of change or in the hope of it?"

The copy in the ad reported 166,740 businesses started during 1997. It said 83,384 businesses stopped. "Somewhere in the middle of all these numbers, is success," the ad proclaimed. "Whether a business is big or small, old or new, its well-being depends on its ability to adapt."

The point is that a business must be willing to change to meet the needs of the marketplace if it wants to thrive or even stay in business. What a business is doing today to make it successful may be exactly the wrong thing to do tomorrow if a major change in the marketplace has occurred.

The ownership of Clarksburg Publishing Company brought me here in December 1996 with a mandate for change. The circulation of the newspapers had been declining for some time. In addition, revenue growth was not keeping pace with the rest of the newspaper industry or the local marketplace.

Cecil Highland Jr. and the other local owners of Clarksburg Publishing Company have a long-term commitment to keep this company locally owned and operated. Most locally-owned newspapers sold out over the past 30 years to newspaper chains.

In addition to staying locally owned, CPC made a commitment to a multi-faceted growth strategy through major investment in our production facility, new management and a vast training effort for our employees so that we can better serve our customers.

Virtually all of the revenue growth we are projecting over the next several years will be reinvested in producing better newspapers that better serve our region. That is because we are in it for the long term. Unlike a corporate-owned newspaper, we're not so concerned about the profits for a three-month period or even for a year or three years.

Job One is to grow readership. Too many people over the past decade had chosen not to read our newspapers. To turn that around we knew we had to make changes in the news product first. This was a big challenge because a major shift had occurred in the marketplace.

We recognized we had at least two different kinds of potential readers: 1) Long-time residents of north central West Virginia; 2) New residents brought here over the last decade from other areas of the country and West Virginia by the corporations that now operate in our region. We also recognized that as a regional newspaper with readers in more than a dozen counties that we have a huge geographical market to serve.

Because of the way corporations move people from location to location and the relative growth of new jobs in the local economy, we estimate at least 5 percent of Harrison County's residents relocate annually. That would mean at any given time, that 15-25 percent of Harrison County's residents could have moved here within the past five years.

These people have different needs from the newspaper than long-time residents. They aren't as interested in club news and social news because they don't know the people in those organizations and aren't likely to get involved themselves. They live a different lifestyle with different information needs.

So we knew our newspapers needed to satisfy and hold on to our current loyal long-time readers. And we knew we needed to introduce new content that could begin to attract the many people who up to then had rejected reading our newspapers. This has been a difficult line to walk.

We know we have made some mistakes along the way. We messed up last October and November on our handling of club news and other community news that had been long-time staples of our newspapers. Beginning in February we tried to put it all back in the newspapers in a package called Hometown Xtra that appears every Saturday.

The good news is the content mix and the color press now seem to have us on the right track because we stopped the circulation slide in 1997 and the growth so far in 1998 has been little short of phenomenal. Readership growth has been in the 7-8 percent range since the first of the year with the two dailies and the Sunday newspaper.

But the newspaper you are reading now is not the finished product. We are a work in progress. And we need your comments to make us better. That is why during the month of May I spoke to eight different groups in the region and asked for their comments. Several of the top managers at our company are available to meet with clubs or organizations, including me and Bill Sedivy, executive editor. We welcome all our readers to write or call us.

Our focus is to give our customers -- readers and advertisers -- more value than any competitor. And our hope is to be all things to all people -- something that we know is impossible. But we hope to be enough of what you want and need to make our newspapers a part of your daily life.

Terry Horne is the publisher of the Exponent and Telegram.

His column appears every Sunday.