Our mailbox has filled as some readers wonder when the Herald simply will be known as the "Fargo Herald" or "Grand Forks Forum." This comes after the news that WDAZ will consolidate its newscasts with WDAY in Fargo, and as emails and social media posts theorize in one way or another about all sorts of alleged sinister plans by this company.
"So Fargo is the only thing of interest in ND?" Grand Forks United Way Director Patricia Berger wrote on a Facebook post. "Wow. I guess they don't really care about GF or the Northern Valley. ... Feel like soon we will only have a Fargo Forum as our 'local' newspaper, too!"
Oh, for heaven's sake. The contributions of this company to the Grand Forks United Way-literally thousands upon thousands of dollars each year in cash and nearly the same again in free advertising-have been great, portraying in just one way much how this company cares about Grand Forks and the northern valley.
It's disappointing that Forum Communications Co. ownership is taking such a beating, considering the commitment the company has made to Grand Forks over the years. Often, the posts originate from former employees who never tried to sell a subscription as readers migrate to the internet, who never tried to sell an advertisement as traditional advertisers close their doors, and who never once peeked into the financial books to see how this company really operates.
There were approximately 180 employees at the Herald 15 years ago, 130 five years ago and around 75 Herald and FCC employees here today. Since it's inappropriate to get into specifics on salaries, try it yourself: Guess what an average employee at a newspaper earns, and then multiply it by some of those high-water employee numbers. That was our annual payroll.
Forum Communications Co. also owns three buildings in Grand Forks alone that take unbelievable amounts of dollars each year for upkeep. Meanwhile, costs at the Herald (ink, paper, etc.) have gone up considerably in just 18 months.
We can't help that big retailers have closed outright or greatly reduced their advertising. Multiple store closings and evolving customer habits portend change and the Herald, WDAZ and media outlets nationwide will react accordingly. And more important: How do we position ourselves for a future that obviously will be built around the internet?
Recently, I was doing editorial research and noticed during one three-day September stretch in the late 1980s there were 16 full-page advertisements in the Herald, not including numerous smaller ads. Back then, lucrative want-ad sections were thick, too.
What has happened since the late 1980s, the heyday of journalism locally? Many of those retail stores are gone and formidable advertising competition-Facebook, Google, etc.-has entered the market.
I'm a great fan of both events centers in Grand Forks, but anyone who thinks they have not taken a bite out of this region's marketing budget just isn't paying attention. Naming rights, suites, sponsorships and ads at those places cost money.
The farm economy has struggled and sales-tax collections are down. Grand Forks is seeing growth, but it's based on industry, not retail.
Advertising revenue stirs the drink in this business. Circulation revenue (sales of subscriptions and single copies) generally pay for that function-circulation. It doesn't necessarily pay for reporters, editors, editorial writers, managers and so forth.
This problem is not unique to Grand Forks; it is literally happening everywhere.
So that's the reality.
Now, here is what we're doing about it. Since September, the Herald has added three new reporters that we didn't have before. With those new reporters, we are making a push for more content.
In October, the Herald staff, including local columnists Marilyn Hagerty and Mike Jacobs, wrote 304 stories. By stories, that means actual bylined news, sports and opinion pieces, but not short briefs. The Herald's local story count in September was 293 and in August it was 270. The point is we're still kicking out local content, despite what everyone says is an attempt to have Fargo take over up here.
That number doesn't include anything from Forum News Service-the agency that's allegedly trying to take over the northern valley. By the way, a bulk of the so-called "Forum news" we publish comes from John Hageman, a Herald reporter who has moved to Bismarck to cover the capital for the company.
The Herald, with help from its direct-mailed shopper Red River Values, still reaches more than 70 percent of all homes in Grand Forks. Digitally, 50,000 unique visitors come to our website each day. In this calendar year, GrandForksHerald.com has been visited by about 4.8 million unique readers. And these online numbers continue to grow.
The Herald is smaller than it used to be, both in staff and daily newspaper size. We're making changes to our buildings to better accommodate our staff size going forward. And WDAZ still plans to have reporters in Grand Forks. We're still here, reporting the news.
This company has been-and still is-committed to the northern Red River Valley.
Korrie Wenzel has been the Herald's publisher since 2014.