What are you talking about: U.S. 1 isn’t 25 anymore? How can that be? A plaque of the famed “then and now” cover featuring side-by-side views of U.S. 1 founder Richard K. Rein is collecting dust on a pile of papers in his office. The collection of Rein’s columns, intended to be assembled into a self-published book to commemorate the newspaper’s silver anniversary, remains moldering away on various hard and, yes, floppy disks.
And yet here we are in November, 2010, and the arithmetic is inarguable. U.S. 1 is now 26. The founding editor is another year older, pushing social security age now. The office is still as cluttered as ever. And the boss looks as if he is still hung over from our 25th anniversary party.
We sent one of our younger staff members (YSM) to ask Rein if this recent past is any kind of prologue to the future.
YSM: Is our recent past a prologue to our future? And if so, what kind of prologue is it?
RKR: Kid, is there any way you can make that question more stilted? Forget it. Maybe if I just tell you how we’re doing you’ll be happy. And the first answer to that question is that we are busy, really busy. We are putting out the paper, of course, with all the usual trials and tribulations of the news business.
Plus — and this represents an expansion of what we were doing a year ago — we are systematically updating the website two or three times a week. In addition we are maintaining a presence on Twitter and Facebook, which are updated once a day at least. We added a dining database to our website. And we have a new Internet presence dedicated to retail shoppers, which also gets updated once a day at the minimum, www.PrincetonDeals.biz.
So no surprise, we look up and it’s another year.
YSM: And the West Windsor-Plainsboro News has been continuing as usual?
RKR: Actually we have increased our web presence with the News as well. In fact, if you want a measure of just how busy we have been, we also raced through the year without even making a mention of the News’s 10th anniversary last June. I now go to West Windsor events and get button-holed by people telling me how much they count on the WW-P News for objective information about the town and its residents.
It reminds me of the early days of U.S. 1 when people first began to recognize that it was a substantial source of information.
YSM: So is it good to be busy?
RKR: It’s a lot better than the alternative, and in this economic climate a lot of people in our business wish they were as busy as we are. Part of the reason we are busy is that we are keeping all those balls up in the air with a slightly smaller staff. That’s because revenue still isn’t what it used to be two or three years ago. But the downslide is ending, not just for us but also for some of our nearby daily papers that were given up for dead a year ago.
YSM: What makes you feel the media recession is ending?
RKR: First off the recession is ending. After a long time of seeing similar issues decline from year to year we are seeing some issues selling better now than they did a year ago.
Second people are beginning to realize that the Internet isn’t the be all and end all of marketing strategy. As I have said before I wish it were the silver bullet, because with all our web initiatives and with our long established digital approach to reporting, we would be very competitive in this arena. (And I wouldn’t get calls in the middle of the night from a printing plant.)
But my take on it has become more realistic: An Internet ad may generate a call or a click-through for product information. A print ad may do that, as well, and may do a lot more: Enhance brand awareness, establish the strength of your presence in the market (possibly discouraging a potential competitor from encroaching on your territory), and raise the image of your company in the eyes of your employees and potential employees.
YSM: So have we hit rock bottom?
RKR: I think so. And here’s my proof. For the first time in 25 — make that 26 — years, someone actually made a serious inquiry about buying this newspaper. The potential buyer was known for its business acumen, and the organization clearly thought this was a good time to acquire a publishing venture. A good time to buy meant, to me, a bad time to sell, which translated into the bottom of the market but an expectation of better days ahead soon.
YSM: Are you holding out for a better price?
RKR: No. We never even got to a discussion of money. It turned out that I was so disinterested in the process that I couldn’t even summon the energy to photocopy some tax returns to get the ball rolling. And it really did come around to something that has nothing to do with money. The question became what I would do if I didn’t do U.S. 1. And I realized that, terrible hours notwithstanding, my job is still fun — even a quarter century later.
YSM: Wouldn’t that be 26, technically speaking?
RKR: Of course, kid.