Corrections or additions?
These column by Richard K. Rein was prepared for the November 5,
2003 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Richard K. Rein: Between the Lines Anniversary Column
It’s that time of year: The first Wednesday in November,
a decided pause between the seasons, but an ominous edge of change in
the air. As it has done every year since November, 1984, U.S. 1 on
this occasion sends forth its most callow youth into service,
thrusting him or her into the editor’s cluttered — always cluttered
The assignment: Get an interview with the Boss, ask the most
impertinent questions you dare, and then escape from the clutter to
write about it and fill this space. Herewith the 19th anniversary
Stop right there, kid. Who says it’s 19? I could easily make the case
that this is the 20th anniversary — the beginning of the 20th year
and the occasion for all sorts of special issues and other gimmicks
that publishers use to suck in advertisers who otherwise would never
think of placing an ad in a 19th anniversary or 21st anniversary
publication. But we aren’t doing that.
Because we still think that you can do an OK business by simply
delivering a reasonable publication at a reasonable cost to a
reasonable group of people. So we aren’t going to give you a 20th
anniversary issue this week. We are just going to tell you what’s
happening on Friday night (when you might want to impress the little
woman — or little man — in your life) as well as what’s cooking on
Saturday morning (when you’re trying to buy some points from the kids
in your life), and we will tell the story of the amazing Nakashima
furniture collection of Arthur and Evelyn Krosnick and what will
happen to it when they retire to Arizona.
If this newspaper ever goes up for sale in my lifetime (and there’s no
guarantee that will happen, given my health and the current economic
climate), I will make this argument to any potential buyer: Sure the
paper made X in the past year, but remember that the true profit
potential is X + BS — BS being all the marketing crap that publishers
can throw on the table whenever they want to drive up their bottom
line, even if it won’t last long.
X is not as big as it was in 1998 or 1999 or even 2000 and it’s
possible that it never will be again. If you think about it, the
profit of those years rode on two principal things:
picture-perfect form; and
52-week-a-year CEO who minimized overhead by handling virtually every
management and operational detail he could.
No. 2 just won’t ever happen again, given that the "CEO" is now 56,
afflicted with coronary heart disease, and also spending half his time
as the single father of two growing boys, now almost 12 and almost 10,
who need more attention rather than less.
racing to the bank if we hear you seizing up on the production room
If I were you I’d sure as hell wouldn’t want to be last one in that
line. But before you get too nervous keep in mind some simple facts.
First, while it’s true that CHD (coronary heart disease) is the No. 1
killer in our land, remember that lots of those future victims are
people walking around with s–t-eating grins on their faces and no
clue as to what CHD even means. In other words they are people just
like I was before I got lucky and discovered a 90 percent clogged
But having dodged that bullet, I’m living a more healthy lifestyle
(did you walk two and a half miles this morning in 30 minutes, kid?);
monitoring my health more frequently than ever (what’s your
lipo-protein (a) count?); and taking enough drugs to keep a street
corner alive for a month in Haight-Ashbury during the ’60s (wanna try
some Plavix, kid?).
a major heart attack. Are we alright?
Good transition, kid. Sure, the economy is down. But the important
fact is that we are still in business. I think the savings grace was
the reasonable business, at a reasonable price, aimed at a reasonable
audience. Back in 1998 or 1999 we probably could have made a temporary
fortune by creating an Internet model of U.S. 1. I hate to think where
we would be today. I’d probably be selling those drugs on the street
But we didn’t do that, we’re still in business, we have expanded our
business opportunities (by starting the West Windsor-Plainsboro News);
we have beefed up our information processing infrastructure (shedding
Novell in favor of Windows 2000 as our network operating system); and
we paved the way for making our production 100 percent digital (by
dumping our 1980s vintage desktop publishing program in favor of
QuarkExpress). That’s a lot of positive change occurring in a bad
Meanwhile, like a lot of other people we do business with, we keep
feeling signs of a rebound in the economy. In this past month,
October, every issue of both U.S. 1 and the WW-P News ran ahead in
sales compared to the same period a year ago. Of course, kid, I have
to remind you that roughly the same thing happened about six months
ago, and then we had a succession of issues with advertising even
worse than in 2002. And of course we have more overhead today than we
had a year ago — thanks to my continued efforts to shift portions of
my load onto other shoulders. So you have to take it all with a grain
challenge facing U.S. 1?
That’s easy to answer: Shifting U.S. 1 from an owner-operated
to a staff-operated business.
But it’s harder to do than I ever imagined. The first thing you hear
in business after you make your first penny is that you had better
start delegating. The failure to do so is always laid at the feet of
the owner. The staff views the owner’s unwillingness to delegate as
some sort of cosmic flaw — how could a guy so smart to start a
successful business be so stupid about delegating.
Let me tell you, kid: You learn a lot about people when you start
asking them to do things they were not hired to do. You discover that
some people who are great at doing a job are not great at supervising
others; some people don’t want the extra responsibility; others are
afraid to make a mistake and the one thing that surely will happen
when you run a business like this is that you will make mistakes —
typically about one a day.
Where should I begin. How about thinking that we could cobble
a home page for our sister newspaper and then end up sinking countless
of hours of staff time into it without ever getting it right? Or not
insisting that we all use the same E-mail, the same E-mail software,
and sign every one of our articles and sections with an E-mail
Nothing comes to mind.
Since you’ve pressed me (and there will be something extra in your
next check for that) I might say it was going ahead with the infamous
"finger" cover when several key people around here challenged the
wisdom of that decision. The argument was that it was rude and that
U.S. 1 could and should play a role in making the world a kinder and
I’m a little leery of journalists who suddenly think they can set the
standard for what’s polite and what’s rude. It surely wasn’t polite of
Woodward and Bernstein to knock on people’s front doors at night to
get the Watergate story. It wasn’t polite of Roger Mudd to grill Teddy
Kennedy about Chappaquiddick. And it was downright rude of the media
to pry into the sex life of Bill Clinton. But that’s the job.
Sometimes in this business you need a little edge to break through the
clutter and make your point. See this finger, kid?
That signifies a one. See these? That’s a nine. It’s 1-9, kid. Not
2-0, not yet. Have fun and we’ll see you next year.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.