Last month, I had a chance to revisit my past – my past as the editor of The Bay City Times.
I ate at one of my favorite restaurants, Old City Hall, and even ran into an old friend right upon walking in.
I walked by the old Times building, now an apartment building, which is even more stately than I remembered. I walked down Third Street beneath twinkling lights that weren’t there when I worked downtown. I visited MLive’s shared office space at Uptown and reminisced about when that area was full of stone piles.
The visit to Bay City kicked off what I refer to internally as the Summer Tour. I make it a point to visit our employees where they work at least once a year and summer is a great time to do it.
I often tell you in this letter about MLive’s commitment to local news and the eight core communities where we publish newspapers. In Bay City, that hit the 150-year mark this year. But that commitment also means I need to commit to the people who cover your communities. My visits around the state did not disappoint.
It was great to see colleagues, like Bay City sportswriter Lee Thompson, who I’ve known and worked with for nearly 30 years. It was rewarding to meet our newest interns, young journalists who in some cases are getting their first taste of working in a professional newsroom. There were social media specialists, videographers, and drop-ins by staffers who mostly work remotely, like pro and college sportswriters.
They all showed great energy and passion for the work they are doing. They heard updates on how MLive is achieving its goals, and in turn asked questions that connect their everyday work to our overall mission and, most importantly, to their communities and you.
Their questions are some of the same ones you might have: What is the future of print? How do we make news organizations sustainable in this era of social media? What are the threats and opportunities of artificial intelligence?
And a big one that is key to what we do: How can we get readers to pay for the content we produce? Because the “secret” business model of the future isn’t a secret. It’s rooted in the past: Subscriptions. Gathering news was never cost-free, and at no time in history were our newspapers free to consumers.
The simple answer to the last question is by remaining rooted in our communities – understanding your history, your culture, and what matters most to you – the people who live there. In the past year, Senior Director of News Kelly Adrian Frick has had her editors and their staffs dig into the types of content that resonate with, and in some ways, define a community.
The Summer Tour kicked off in Bay City because the staff earned the honor earlier in the year. Frick had challenged each of our eight local news teams to write a narrative evoking the personality of their town. At a managers meeting, the summaries were read and voted on, and Bay City won with this:
We’ve got bridges, bars and boats. We know that summers are for fireworks and concerts, winters are for ice fishing. We know how to catch our walleye and fry them up too. We love our St. Patrick’s Day Parade and our paczkis. We make life a little sweeter with our sugar beets. We know how to avoid freighters, trains and bridge closures in a single commute. We know Bay City because we are Bay City.
Having worked at The Times for 18 years, I thought the staff nailed it. The summaries all were fantastic, and they weren’t just hometown bragging. The exercise made us thoughtful about connecting with readers on topics that are central to life in our towns.
We talked on the tour about issue journalism, but also about what is happening on street corners downtown and in neighborhoods. About businesses opening and closing, streets being closed for repairs, an uptick in crime or a change in the local political scene. Even our group lunches supported the theme, as we enjoyed hometown favorites with food from places like Hoffman’s Deco Deli & Café in Flint and Pizza House in Ann Arbor.
The more we understand our communities and represent what makes each unique in our coverage, the more we stay connected to you and your interests. And the more we do that, the more we strengthen the subscriber relationship in those eight communities that date back 150 years or more.
# # #
John Hiner is the vice president of content for MLive Media Group. If you have questions you’d like him to answer, or topics to explore, share your thoughts at email@example.com.