"So how's the Turlock office working for you guys?" is a question that I hear often.
The query is in reference to the Courier closing its Ceres office at 2940 Fourth Street in April of last year and sharing generous office space with our sister paper, The Turlock Journal, at 138 S. Center Street in Turlock. (Yes, it's been 13 months.)
If I may be honest, I'm not thrilled about putting the extra miles on my car nor the time spent behind the wheel as a result of the change. But I believe in the Courier - it's been a part of my life for nearly 26 years - and I enjoy what I do and I'm happy to have this experience in my life.
But let me put the same question to you, the reader: "How's the Turlock office working for you guys?" Can you tell by our coverage that we've moved our office 15 minutes south on Highway 99? I suspect the average person has no clue anything has changed.
Coverage hasn't suffered, in my opinion, barring the occasional moments when we hear of an accident and realize it would be 15-20 minutes before we get on scene from Turlock. However, it's a rare day when I am not in Ceres, and I've been in the right place at the right time for some great photos.
Our move to Turlock was strictly a business decision. When Dave Winegarden, the publisher at the time, put forth the suggestion my jaw hit the floor and I went into a small panic. The office was my home away from home since 1987. While I detested the dark 1970s paneling that lined my office, I have a truckload of memories there. The times Mae Hensley would pop in, chat and pat her hand on mine and tell me what a good newspaper man I was. Or the times Jim Luton of Melody Corner Bible Book Store would interrupt his sidewalk sweeps to chat about God or politics. And I certainly miss the pop-in visits of Brian Carlin, as well as many of you who would do so.
I told Mr. Winegarden that my vote was "no" as I pondered the logistics of covering Ceres from a satellite office. But I was also quite sure that my two cents wasn't going to change things in light of the need to trim operational expenses. Ironically, some readers falsely assumed that it was my decision and braised me as the culprit. (Some mistakenly assume I own the paper because I have been here so long).
Members of the City Council weren't too excited about the departure of our office, thinking, oh no, another empty storefront in town. However, our old office has recently been filled as a house of worship.
Immediately after the decision was announced, some - including longtime resident Grant Lucas -- suspected that our office move was a precursor to the demise of the Courier, which has been a part of the Ceres landscape since 1910. I assured him that while newspaper readership is down from what it was 20 or 30 years ago and papers have enjoyed better days, community newspapers are still fairly strong and the Courier is here to stay. We are still the only publication both in print and online that focuses its resources on covering Ceres and meeting advertiser needs.
Why are community newspapers relevant? We fill an important niche. Community newspapers inform you about news that affects you the greatest. I believe that our City Council has more direct impact on a local resident than the federal government. So it's important for you to know what it is doing. I believe that the local burglar has more direct bearing on your well-being than an East Coast serial killer. So it's important to know what he's up to and how he's striking Ceres neighborhoods. And it's important that the accomplishments of local kids are heralded in the paper - you won't see that elsewhere -- and is often their first taste of being part of community as they prepare to become the next generation of movers and shakers.
As it turned out, a Ceres office was not necessary for writers such as me and Dale Butler to sit in front of a computer and compose stories. There were definitely some positives on our end for the move to the Turlock office puts us into daily contact with reporters who are working on county, regional and water stories that affect Ceres residents as well. That association has allowed us to keep better abreast of issues and continues to benefit you, our reader.
As with any industry, the newspaper industry is adapting to changes in society. (If you think we are the only paper to make changes, consider that the Modesto Bee has slashed staff, abandoned its Modesto press and now prints its paper in Sacramento and trucks it down.) People read less on print and more on line which presents this challenge: How do newspapers successfully generate revenue by publishing content on line that is expected as a free service? Newspapers make their money on advertising, legal notices and subscriptions. The appetite for news is greater than it has ever been and we must continue to figure out how to pay for gathering it as the way people consume it continues to evolve.
Last month I received a letter from a Courier reader who was still upset, a year later, about the office move. But I must ask her, and others, to keep things in perspective. Would you prefer having the Courier with a Ceres office and operate carelessly and one day have to fold up, or make prudent changes that allow us to keep operating and still producing a paper that is relevant to your lives?
We trust that you answer that you want us around, indeed for the next 100 or so years.
A newspaper provides a valuable service, but keep in mind that, it too, is a business enterprise. We have salaries to pay and a myriad of expenses. The economy has hurt many Ceres businesses - Long John Silver's on Hatch recently disappeared and Richland Market closed last October - and all have had to adapt by trimming expenses. Our office move allowed us to improve our efficiencies and we apologize for the inconvenience it has or will cause. We trust that any hard feelings have fallen by the wayside for most of you.
Did we want to close the Ceres Courier office? Absolutely not. Was it necessary to help the Courier remain relevant and efficient? For sure. Is the lack of a Ceres office an inconvenience to carriers and the public who need to transact business over a counter? At times and for that we apologize. Did the Courier's local content suffer as a result? Absolutely not.
Circulation staff members routinely pass along compliments from customers who gush with praise and appreciation for the Courier. Most of you enjoy the Courier - I've heard it described as a "great little paper" and that you "love it" - and you consider us a part of the community.
Our mission will continue to be delivering news about Ceres that is relevant to your life. Our move hasn't changed that one iota.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at firstname.lastname@example.org