By GWEN SISSON
He admits it has been a tough recession — the toughest of his lifetime.
“The newspaper industry is a great business,” said Wyatt Emmerich at Monday’s meeting of Starkville’s Rotary Club. “This has been the toughest recession I have seen. I have moaned and groaned. It takes a lot of hard work.”
But in reviewing his November numbers, Emmerich said he has seen an eight percent increase in revenue.
“It bottomed out in April, but has improved over the fall, then we were surprised to see the increase in November,” Emmerich said. “But if you look at the state tax collection numbers, they are tracking the same way.”
Moving through the recession has caused much change in the newspaper industry, but he believes the state and national economy is making a positive improvement.
“You go through hard times and come out stronger,” Emmerich said. “You stick to your core values.”
Emmerich is the president of Emmerich Newspapers, Inc. with 25 papers throughout the Southeast. Most of the papers are located in Mississippi, including The Webster Progress-Times in Webster County and The Choctaw Plaindealer in Choctaw County. Emmerich also serves as the editor/publisher of The Northside Sun in Jackson.
Emmerich said a local newspaper with a heavy focus on the community is a franchise that has value.
“People care about their community and the local newspaper plays a vital role in helping to create a community identity,” Emmerich said. “Journalists must focus on content, whether it is on the screen or on the page. They must realize they are the originators of valuable information. Distribution is not their worry.”
In reviewing the numbers from the 15 websites managed as part of his 25 newspapers throughout the Southeast, Emmerich said his company makes about $1 million each year on internet advertising.
“But that is peanuts compared to print,” Emmerich said. “People want their community newspaper in print.”
In following the “small is the new big” theory, Emmerich said keeping a focus on quality content and totally local coverage is the way the newspaper industry has changed in changing times.
“The community newspaper has the role of bringing the community together,” Emmerich said. “The big daily newspapers have a difficult time embracing that role.”
He shared memories and a little family history of the changes in the newspaper business, beginning with his grandfather’s newspaper in McComb, his father’s newspaper in Greenwood and his experiences as a publisher.
“The newspaper industry is going through a transformation and continues to change,” Emmerich said. “Every aspect of the business has been modernized in the past 20 to 30 years. It has been an amazing few decades.”
Emmerich cited the progress of printing technology as being one of the biggest improvements made in the industry.
“The newspaper industry was the absolute last industry to go color,” Emmerich said. “But creating a color page is 10 times harder than black and white pages.”
Emmerich described the process of lining up plate, with black and white requiring one plate and color pages requiring precision alignment of four plates to make a color page.
Progress is never ending, as Emmerich described the future of digital publishing and customized editions, that still requires some work to “get the bugs out” to make it economical.
“More and more readers are demanding high-quality publications with a magazine-like quality to it,” Emmerich said. “Readers have more options than ever before and that is a good thing. They want quality content.”
While the changes in the newspaper industry continues to be brought to light as news of larger daily papers lay off employees, Emmerich said it is not the only industry seeing major changes. He said almost every industry has seen major changes as technology improves and the economy changes.
Emmerich was a guest of Rotary member John Robert Arnold who enjoys Emmerich’s columns featured in the Starkville Daily News.