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Gratitude and nitty gritty details of our campaign

At this time of year, Thanksgiving makes us all stop (after lots of activity and travel, often, to get to that welcome place with family and friends) and think about that for which we are grateful in life. There are some years when it is hard, for one reason or another, to find just one thing to justify thanks, but other years when it’s easy as pie to conjure up 10 or 20 in a moment. 

For The Lakeville Journal and The Millerton News this year, gratitude is easy to come by. The process to this place was not, however, so simple. First, the company had to realize and accept that once again, as in all the years since the current ownership acquired it in 1995, the deficit was going in the wrong direction. This, after having taken measures we thought would work to try to find financial balance, was supremely discouraging. It was clear it was time to look at different and creative models to redefine this small, independent publishing company. 

We have been writing about this for two months now, between the rollout of the survey to figure out what our readers value most about what we offer them (in the issues of Oct. 10, 17 and 24) and the initiation of a new membership model of community support (Nov. 7, 14, 21 and this week, 28.) The results have been enlightening and in many ways encouraging. See the opposite page, Viewpoint, this week to see the data we collected from the surveys. And see last week’s editorial pages of both The Lakeville Journal and The Millerton News to see the response to date of our membership initiative. We’ve also published a series of questions and answers on the membership model (Nov. 14 and 21) and have hosted an open house at The Lakeville Journal (Tuesday, Nov. 26) in order to meet with people in person who have further questions, concerns and ideas. Please know that all ideas are welcome, and we’ve heard some really interesting and exciting ones from our readers. Thank you for that.

 

Some of our readers expressed concern that the membership support would only bring the company to operating at its current level, and they would like to see more and better coverage of their towns and the issues they care about. This membership initiative is meant just to stabilize the company, though, and we will then take seriously the survey requests and all we hear directly from readers to inform them on those topics they think are most important. We were really glad to hear that coverage of government and education were top priorities. They are for us, too. 

Others want to know what the building in Lakeville sold for, and where that money went. It sold to Salisbury Bank and Trust Company for $600,000 and after paying down bills from lawyers, contractors for work at our new location, printing bills and the losses over the past three years, that money has dwindled. It is not gone, but we wanted to act before it was, when we realized the trend was downward for our advertising revenues.

Did our investors want that building sold to pay them off? The answer to that is no, our owners have never had that goal. They have stolidly supported local, independent journalism, and they are the ones who have filled in for the company’s deficit since 1995, when the losses were well above $400,000. In the ensuing years, we paid off the Bissell Street building mortgage and other debt to banks and previous ownership. There are no liens or mortgages remaining. The list of our owners is published in both newspapers during October every year under the Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation. This year it published Oct. 24. 

On questions referring to wages for all at the company, the pay scale for our staff at all levels is surely less than we think any of them deserve, but it is the best we can do at the moment. If and when we can find a more stable financial status (notice the optimism in the face of support and encouragement from many of our readers?), the company will look at reasonable and defensible increases for those who have not had them recently. Interns are not paid, but they can apply for course credit to their schools when that is applicable. When interns return after the program is completed, they are paid our standard freelance rate of $2 a column inch for their published work, or may become employees, as several have over the years. 

In order to find savings over the past 20 years, the company has cut some salaries, cut within some departments and cut some entire departments as reorganization became possible through technology or other advancements in the industry. To produce the publications we do weekly, monthly and annually, we have 14 full time, 10 part time, and multiple freelancers who write for us and are paid by the article or by the column inch. The columnists, cartoonists and letter writers are not paid, except Dick Ahles, who is paid $12.50 for each column that publishes, and our Nature’s Notebook columnists, who are paid $10 per column. 

The Lakeville Journal Company pays 50% of medical and dental benefits for our full-time (30 hours or over) employees, and pays for small life insurance policies on all of them as well. A 401(k) plan is available for all eligible employees, which the company does not match, but for which it does pay the associated fees. 

Our apologies if this is too much information, but in that our readers have stepped up to support us, we want to be sure they understand who we are not only as a publisher, but also as an employer.

Thank you again, from all of us at The Lakeville Journal Company, for all the reasons you, our readers, have given us to be thankful this year. We hope you have found good reasons to be thankful yourselves, and that the holiday gives you even more to count.

Happy Thanksgiving.