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Some things change; one will not

Many of you will have seen our announcement this week that Tracy Agnew will be taking over as the new editor of the Suffolk News-Herald on Dec. 1. My last day here will be Dec. 8, and I will begin a six-month period of ministry through Supply and Multiply in Haiti on Dec. 30. While there, I will continue my studies with Dallas Theological Seminary toward a Master of Arts in Christian Leadership, an endeavor I began in September.

This is not my goodbye column. If I can figure out how to do that in 500 words or fewer, I will write that column another time. Today, I want to assure our readers that the Suffolk News-Herald is healthier than it has been in a long time and to say how proud I am to be turning over the newsroom leadership to Tracy.

Newspapers have gone through a tough period these last few years. In truth, I believe that when I started in this business in 1986, it had already peaked. Within a few short years after I joined the ranks of print journalists, our industry was faced with new challenges that even today newspapers are still trying to counter: Cable news came along with its 24-hour news cycles; USA Today shook up the long-form story mold we had become used to; and then Internet access became common in households across the country.

The ensuing years proved a nightmare for our industry. Newsroom staffs have been cut over and again. Budgets have been slashed. Respected and beloved newspapers have closed their doors. Legitimate journalists now compete with bots programmed to pump fake news into social media feeds. And a whole new industry has grown up around debunking false claims and stories on the Internet, confirming for many a latent distrust of the media in general.

We have not been immune to the changes here at the Suffolk News-Herald. Our staff is much smaller than it was during the ‘80s. We no longer print the newspaper in house. Even the size of the pages you are now holding (assuming you’re not reading this online, something we could not have imagined in 1986) are smaller, as we have followed a cost-saving trend evident around the nation.

But in the face of the cost-saving measures, we are now publishing more products than ever. Our lifestyle magazines — Suffolk Living and Western Branch Magazine — give advertisers a whole new way to reach customers with a message that stays on their coffee tables for two months at a time. Our website delivers more than a hundred thousand visitors a month. Our digital marketing arm gives us the ability to help businesses develop websites and manage their online reputations.

Because of the challenges we have faced, the Suffolk News-Herald has adapted and found new markets. The paper — actually, it’s better to think of it as a true media company — is in fine financial condition, and I believe the next 140-some years will be even better than the first. Furthermore, I can promise that our commitment to fine journalism — to telling folks in Suffolk about what’s happening here and about their interesting friends and neighbors — continues undiminished.

To that end, I was proud to be able to recommend that Tracy Agnew be promoted to take my place when I step down in December. Tracy — someone recently called her “the most famous reporter in Suffolk” — has a passion for telling people’s stories. She is a person of great integrity and shares my conviction that this newspaper occupies an important niche and therefore serves an important role in Suffolk.

We are your hometown newspaper, and that’s not going to change.