Competing on a tilted playing field – March 23, 2005

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2005

I received a solicitation letter earlier this week from the city’s tourism department.

It was a request that I buy advertising in the program for the upcoming Civil War Weekend, April 9 and 10.

First off, I’m not here to complain about the event. I think it’s a wonderful effort on the part of tourism to capitalize on the history of our community, and as the local newspaper, we’ll do anything we can to help publicize the event and make it successful – short of endorsing a city department selling advertising, that is.

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I know the total revenue we are probably looking at being sold in the program is miniscule in the grand scheme of things. For me, however, it’s a matter of principal.

You see, we sell advertising for a living. Circulation probably accounts for 10-15 percent of our total revenue; the remainder is through the sell of advertising. So the newspaper you receive in your home each day is heavily subsidized by area businesses.

Advertising revenue from local businesses also pays our employees, their health insurance, the cost of paper, the cost of printing, our light bill, our heating bill and anything that we can hang on to so that our stockholders receive a return on their investment.

There is only so much advertising revenue in our community to be had and there is a great deal of competition for it among newspapers, radio, television, the Web, etc. In each case, our ability to publish or broadcast depends on us realizing revenue from the sale of advertising.

Without advertising, we would not be able to publish our newspaper or maintain this Web site.

Such is not the case with the civil war program. I would guess that city will have a slick, professional program available to visitors whether advertising is sold or not. Employees at the tourism department will receive their weekly paychecks, have their health insurance paid and keep their lights on whether they sell any advertising or not.

And they will be paid with, in part, my tax money as well as that paid by every employee at the Suffolk News-Herald. News-Herald employees are, in effect, subsidizing the tourism department to compete with us.

How I look at it is that there are only so many advertising dollars in our community. And while the Suffolk News-Herald cannot get them all, every one the city sells is one I know we will not get.

The city could do any number of things to raise additional revenue for what it wants to do. It has a stable of lawyers in the city attorney’s office. How about selling their services to the public a couple days a week? Wait until you see the outcry from local lawyers over that. Or go down to North Carolina and use our tax money to buy a bunch of cars at an auto auction, park them along Prentis Street and sell them for profit. I’d love to see the reaction from the Dukes, Dumans, Bartons and Whites. They could also buy up private real estate and develop it….Oh, I forgot, they’re already doing that.

So there’s any number of other ways for the city to compete with the private sector and I hope the next time some event roles around, they’ll pick another local, private business to harm instead of the media.