If you’ve taken some time today to look through this newspaper, you may notice a few things are different. But before I spend any time introducing our company to the thousands of readers in both the Coastal Bend and Coastal Plains, please allow me to spend some time talking about the past 40 years.
As you may have heard – through front-page stories today and last week – Jeff and Chip Latcham have capped off incredible careers as newspaper publishers. Effective Jan. 31, our company has purchased the newspapers managed by the Latchams since the 1980s. Their father, grandfather and great-grandfather ran the company before them.
Those who know the two brothers, which I think is nearly everyone in a 7-county radius, likely know much better than I what incredible men they are and continue to be. What you may not know about Jeff and Chip, mainly because most of you have never published newspapers, is what perseverance they have shown over the past decade during an incredibly tumultuous time in the newspaper business.
The disruption to this industry has largely come in the form of digital transformation. Whether it’s news you receive free on your phone, marketplaces on social media, or cheap marketing campaigns through the juggernauts of Facebook and Google, the expediency and ease of the digital world has (rightfully, I might add) reduced the number of readers and advertisers in local newspapers.
Newspapers aren’t the only ones who have suffered in our digital age. Go walk into any retail store, be it mom-and-pop or national chain, and take a look at the number of people passing through the aisles. The world of retail business has been completely up-ended, thanks to platforms like Amazon, where every product you ever needed, and those you will never need, can be delivered to your door in a day or two.
The pressure on retail shopping has also made an impact on the viability of local newspapers like the one you’re reading today. As those stores have lost market share, they’ve drastically slowed their marketing dollars (advertising) in local print and digital media.
And as all that happened over the past 10-15 years, Jeff and Chip Latcham continued to open the doors of their newspapers, devoted to the mission of publishing relevant, timely news that made a positive impact on the communities they served. They’ve had to make some of the most gut-wrenching decisions a publisher can make, including the merger of some newspapers and a reduction in staff, and each of those decisions has come with consequences that weigh heavy on the heart.
So as Jeff and Chip scoot off to their family ranch, kicking up birds and dusting off hobbies, I want to personally tell their readers that these two, fine men deserve every accolade imaginable for the service they have done for their communities.
And since we’re talking about service to communities, let me tell you a few things about the reason our company has purchased these newspapers from the Latcham family, while publicly sharing our goals for the future.
As far-fetched, and maybe ludicrous, as it may sound, we wholeheartedly believe that a local, community newspaper remains vital to the people, places and businesses it covers. More than that, though, we believe in the purpose – in the mission – of local newspapers. And we believe that more now than ever.
Yes, we know the habits of our readers. We know many would rather scroll a social media feed to find what their friends are reading. We know most people have a slew of favorite websites, where their social, cultural and political biases are confirmed with by-the-minute updates.
What we also know is that local, relevant and filtered journalism like the stories in our newspapers still provides a necessary value to making the communities we serve better places to live.
That’s the “bureaucratic” reason our company, Coastal Bend Publishing, has purchased these wonderful newspapers from the Latcham family. Here’s the other reason:
When we first made the drive to Beeville, Karnes City, Three Rivers, George West, Mathis, Sinton, Portland, Refugio and Goliad, we saw opportunity.
We see what’s happening at the southern end of this region, where dirt is being moved and infrastructure is being installed for industries that will employ nearly 1,000 people.
We see a northern tip of the region that still matters to the production of energy nationally and internationally, including expansion of the Valero plant and oil and gas permits approved every week.
We see a central section of this region that will see growth and development from the bookends north and south.
Make no mistake: We jumped at this opportunity because we believe our business can help every single business in this market. We believe a strong group of newspapers can be a driving force for the growth we’re going to see in the next two years.
Our role is complicated. Newspapers serve as the history books and transcribers of official action. But we believe our purpose isn’t just to react to the news; it’s to be proactive for the cities we call home.
It’s our job to find areas of improvement and lead that effort. It’s our mission to celebrate the good in our communities and ensure every single person within a hundred-mile radius knows this is a wonderful place to live and work.
And as important as it is to tell you about the great people here, it’s just as important that we be a clarion for the local businesses that employ our people and provide revenue for our communities.
What will change under our ownership? Well, the mission will remain exactly as Jeff and Chip Latcham described it for 40 years. We’ve made a few design changes to make the papers easier to read, but that’s merely lipstick.
Our priority is to provide you with content you’ve never read before. We seek to surprise our readers every time they pick up a newspaper. We’ll be relevant always, we’ll stay away from the ugly, national political debate, and as we assume stewardship of your newspapers, we’ll ask you hold us accountable each week to do exactly as we promise.