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Newspapers are a business, too

Melissa Swenson

Tough decisions are a part of life for every business person. As the General Manager of the Focus, there are decisions that I struggle with for months before they are made. There are others that are easy; clear-as-a-bell common sense decisions that anyone who has the sense that God gave them would make.

Recently, an annually reoccurring decision reared its not-so-pretty head. The Tomorrow's Leaders of New York Mills newspaper promotion had been published for 20 years. At least that's what I've been told by several New York Mills residents. I myself have dealt with the promotion for several years and last year, as the GM, I had made the decision it would be our last year to publish it.

When word of that decision got out last week, I received calls from upset New York Mills residents, and the Focus Facebook page was bombarded with angry comments.

Why would I discontinue this much beloved "newspaper promotion?" Because it's not a newspaper promotion at all. It's a sales promotion that is done by a photography company from Missouri. They promise a free picture of your child to be published in the Tomorrow's Leaders section of the local newspaper. And of course, you can buy photos from them afterwards if you so choose. Still, getting your child's photo in the paper is absolutely free.

For the proud parents, that's a great deal. For the photographer, it's an amazingly sweet deal. For us, it sort of stinks.

The photographer expects us to run all the photos taken in the Focus, which, according to them, will increase our newspaper sales so much it will certainly be worth our efforts. But that isn't the case.

At most, we have sold 30 extra papers of the Tomorrow's Leaders edition - not even a small percentage of what we need to recoup our costs. In our efforts to continue this community tradition, we did try to offset the cost last year by selling advertising to support it... these efforts failed and we didn't come close to covering our costs. But because parents were already told that the photos would be appearing in the paper, we went ahead with it - two full pages' worth. It was the final straw. I knew after last year we could no longer continue to publish the photos.

Perhaps, in the heyday of newspapers, when we had plenty of revenue and plenty of space to fill, this scenario may have worked. But in this day and age, newspapers are forced to do more, with less revenue. Sorry folks, but we have to pay attention to our bottom line. Our space is our product - it doesn't make sense for us to be giving it away to an out-of-state company that is only using our space to sell its own promotion, making money while we lose out.

To be clear, we had told the company that we would not be participating this year; still, the word spread that the Tomorrow's Leaders section would be published and parents were encouraged to be a part of it.

For the record, we try our hardest to be supportive of the communities we serve. Like any good business in any community, we want our customers to be happy. We realize we're providing a service to people, and we do our best to cover everything of importance to our readers. And, like any good business in any community, we have to make sensible financial decisions.

We often do promotions for community festivals and area non-profits. We provide free promotion and reduced advertising rates for causes that are worthwhile and beneficial to our communities. But these promotions are carefully planned out by us to fall within the guidelines of our budget. They are not designed to benefit a "for profit" business.

To those of you in New York Mills who are upset about my decision on this, I want you to know this: I am a mother; I love my daughter and couldn't be more proud of her. I love it when her picture is in the paper, too. I get where you're coming from. But now that you know the reality of the situation, I ask you: If you were the manager, what would you do?