McKeithan Column

Published 9:25 am Monday, November 10, 2008

By Staff
Sad days in the newspaper business
Yet, hope for the future
The ever-faster-tumbling decline of the newspaper industry is difficult to watch. It is even more painful to experience firsthand.
The front page in today’s WDN has a message from publisher Brownie Futrell about the decision to drop the Monday paper and to outsource our printing. Jobs will be lost. It is a sad day. Very difficult decisions had to be made.
I cannot dishonor those affected with a “humorous” column based on my odd-duck take on life. Not today.
What Brownie refuses to say in his announcement, out of humility, is that for years the Futrell family has provided a seven-day newspaper to a geographic area as expansive as that served by some metro newspapers. They have done so with a genuine devotion to the entire Pamlico region.
The WDN would have been much more profitable as a non-daily with delivery only in Beaufort County. Any other newspaper owner would have made such a change long ago — not the Futrell family.
You may think this is an obvious attempt on my part to earn “Brownie” points with the owners. If I denied it, you wouldn’t believe me, would you? The truth is, I have long admired the family’s absolute devotion to readers of the WDN. I have observed it up close for seven years now with puzzlement and admiration.
I stumbled into my newspaper career 21 years ago as a sales representative for United Media. I traveled the country selling advertising in TV magazine supplements that we provided to newspapers. I was the best “cold caller” in the company, or at least I thought so. I am not proud of this self-anointed honor — a dubious achievement. My independent spirit kept me from making joint sales calls with employees of the newspapers, as I was supposed to do.
As I’ve stated before in this column — I ride alone.
Because of high production costs, we recently discontinued our TV section and enhanced our daily listings in the paper. (Yes, you can blame me.) The significance of this decision — as it mirrors my newspaper career — has the ironic shadings of my own personal Shakespearean play.
Have I become the living analogy of our former TV section — having abandoned the very thing that got me into this business? Will I be discarded one day, just as unceremoniously? That is my fear.
Yet, I have hope.
While it is true the glory days of newspaper publishing are distant memories held only by what is now an elderly population — our demise is not certain. I believe this is true for the industry overall, and for the Washington Daily News.
I love the business I have adopted as an “outsider.” I did not grow up with dreams of writing or visions of Pulitzer prizes dancing in my head (good thing, huh?). I hated English classes, especially sentence diagraming and grammar. These truths have certainly been evidenced in my columns.
I did not go to journalism school at Carolina. I have a degree in music from East Carolina University. I say that with no regrets. It has served me well. (Go Pirates!)
I hope to always work in this business, in this place. I’m sure even more significant changes are to come, hopefully far into the future. Although our method and frequency of delivery may change, our mission never will. We will continue to be your primary source for local news, sports, advertising and information. Always.
Still, I fear the unknown. Don’t we all?
Whatever the future holds, I hope to always be here as part of this extended newspaper family, continuing to honor a legacy of commitment and service … if they’ll have me.
Ray McKeithan is associate publisher of the Washington Daily News. If you have questions or comments about operations, policies or content in the WDN that can be addressed in future columns, please send an e-mail to: or call 252-940-4205.