Five months ago today I was named publisher and president of The Modesto Bee. Since then, I have had the pleasure of meeting with many readers and advertisers. To a person, they all have all expressed their concerns over the future of The Bee. Without hesitation, I explain that we have a long future in our community.
The newspaper industry is under attack. Competition comes not from a single source, but from many. Like the ships off of the coast of Somalia -- surrounded by vicious bands of pirates -- newspapers are navigating treacherous waters. We must use our size -- our loyal audiences, our dedicated journalists and our widespread advertising resources -- to defend ourselves from these attackers.
Thousands of editions of The Bee are stored in our basement, dating back to the late 19th century. Through these papers our community has experienced war, victory, births and deaths. We have traveled to the moon and to the depths of the ocean. We have learned about our neighbors and friends, and have shared our ideas for our community.
Like many companies, we have worked to engage in new online social networking ventures; we have created hip profiles on MySpace, built widgets for blogs, found fans on Facebook and engaged followers as we 'tweet.'
When it comes right down to it, though, they are all chasing newspapers. With our society-wide perspective and ability for readers to offer your opinions, newspapers are social media -- version 1.0.
Our challenge is to maintain reliability and consistency with our longstanding readers -- more than 300,000 adults in our area read The Bee each week -- while simultaneously attracting new readers through various channels. When viewed through the lens of the modern technological zeitgeist, we seem arcane or, as some would suggest, incapable of change.
What most don't realize is that we are changing every day, and that we have throughout our history. Newspapers have always looked for faster, smarter and more efficient ways to share important information with our communities. As critical as newspapers are to the health of our communities, we have to stop living in a 20th -- and in some cases 19th -- century world, and rewire ourselves as a 21st century media industry.
We have to look at our industry as if we were starting from scratch. For too long we have protected and preserved old-school methods of production and delivery, and now is the time for us to reinvent ourselves. And that is what we are doing at The Bee.
Biologists will tell you that the one thing that maintains the health of forests and creates new growth is fire. Newspapers are in our own firestorm -- but we are seeing new shoots emerge from the ashes, from more efficient operations to online audience growth to the development of new revenue streams.
In recent months the financial challenges of newspaper companies have been played out in the public view. Long-standing newspapers have closed their doors and others have filed for bankruptcy protection. The company that owns The Bee has been beaten up by nearly every media critic and Wall Street analyst in recent months.
But while we are being publicly condemned -- called ancient and obsolete -- no one is saying newspapers or journalism are irrelevant. When future generations look back on the period we are experiencing now, they will see it as the crucible from which modern journalism has been formed.
The challenges ahead of us are huge. We can't just tighten our seatbelts, close our eyes and hope that the worst is over soon. These are times for innovation, times for creativity, times for serious journalists to step forward and remind our communities how critical we are in their daily lives.
On behalf of all Modesto Bee employees -- who are proud to live, work and play in our community -- we proudly accept that challenge.
Johnston, publisher and president of The Bee, can be reached at 578-2149 or online at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 578-2149.