It has been almost six months since my arrival in Juneau and today seems like a good day to express my appreciation to our readers and community at large for the warm welcome and resounding support of all the changes we are implementing.
Thank you for the feedback so many of you have provided. Sometimes newspapers can get a bit out of touch with the communities they serve, and at times we lose touch with what readers want to see on our pages. We are working hard to better understand our audience and to deliver a valuable product to you on a regular basis. We have even created a Director of Audience position that is entirely dedicated to this cause.
I hope all of you will continue to reach out to us any time with feedback or questions. We will continue to hold “Lunch with the Publisher” meetings so readers can meet with us in person. In addition, our staff always welcomes feedback by both phone and email. If you disagree with something we’re doing, please speak up. I don’t mind an occasional tongue-lashing, as it helps me keep things in perspective and consider issues from varying points of view.
Several common themes have emerged from the feedback we have received. Many of you have expressed concerns over our management of the online comments. While many of the commentors participate in a respectful manner, others tend to push the limits or ignore them altogether. We recognize the issues and are working on a solution that will eliminate anonymous comments without impeding our ability to control and moderate the system. Until we have a solution in place, we will continue to manually monitor the comments and we plan to be more stringent in our enforcement of the commenting policies. The original purpose of the comments was to encourage people to engage in conversation in a meaningful and respectful way. Instead, the current tone of many comments tends to deter healthy and respectful debate both online and in print.
Some members of the community believe we slant the news on purpose to push a particular political agenda, or to bend to the wishes of our owners in Augusta, Ga. Sometimes, individuals assume the placement of a story or picture is used as evidence of our master plan to sway citizens to our side. The truth is this: We have a small staff — all human — who work their tails off every day to publish a small novel for the world to judge. We barely have time to find our head with both hands, so to speak, much less work on our long-term master propaganda plan. In addition, no one from corporate has ever sat in on our staff meetings to decide what we are going to report or editorialize on. Your paper is being written by good people who live here and are probably as normal as you are. For me, I feel like we had a good day when both sides tell me we favored the other.
Lastly, we know that we have many internal issues that have affected our ability to provide superior customer service. Some of those issues have been driven by employee turnover, but much of it is related to our dated technology infrastructure. We are taking steps to eliminate the employee turnover issue and are also in the midst of overhauling nearly all our systems, including servers, bandwidth, hardware and software. We realize there will continue to be hiccups as we implement these changes, but we believe that in the end it will allow us to better serve you and improve the overall customer experience. Please be patient as we figure this out.
To close, many of you may be wondering about the future of newspapers. I could write several pages on this topic if I was a writer, but let me assure you that we will be around for a long time. We are evolving — not dying. Keep in mind we are a content-generating industry, not just a newspaper industry. We control our content and if we were worried that putting it online would run us out of business, we would simply stop including it online. Instead, the online and mobile versions of our product are creating new opportunities and reaching more readers than ever before. It is an exciting time to be part of the transformation of today’s media.
Thank you again for your involvement and for caring about your local newspaper. Happy Thanksgiving!
• Rustan Burton is publisher of the Juneau Empire.