If you look at the publisher’s box on page A2 of today’s paper, you’ll see a small change to the title under the name William B. Randall. That’s me, although I’d prefer that you call me Will. On Monday, Jan. 19, I became chairman of the board and chief operating officer of Randall Family LLC, the company that produces The Frederick News-Post. I thought it would be helpful to introduce myself and to hopefully start a conversation about the future of your local newspaper.
Many of you already know me. I have lived in Frederick almost my whole life. One of my ancestors, John Thomas Schley, brought the first settlers to Frederick in 1745 and built the first house in downtown Frederick. My great-great-grandfather William T. Delaplaine founded this newspaper. I moved into the area when I was 4 years old, after my dad completed his master’s at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I have worked at the newspaper for almost my entire professional career. I earned my master’s in business administration from Hood College in 2011. I am active in the Rotary Club of Frederick, I’m on the board of directors of the Frederick Arts Council, I attend Chamber of Commerce events and I love both old and new Frederick. I am excited about Frederick’s future, and I am truly excited about the future of our company.
Future? You may ask. But isn’t the newspaper industry dying? It’s a question we get a lot. The answer is emphatically no, but the industry is changing. The days of daily printed newspapers being the only source of news for a majority of Americans are over. The media landscape is fragmented and competition for eyeballs and marketing dollars is fierce, and comes from both traditional and nontraditional sources. I believe that if a daily printed newspaper expects to maintain business as usual and not change in response to consumer behavior, then yes, that newspaper will die. However, the things that newspapers have traditionally done so well — being a credible source of news and information, driving informed public policy debate, creating ways for businesses to reach customers by creating a vibrant marketplace and fostering a sense of community — are things that will always be in demand in a healthy democratic society. How newspapers provide these services has to change.
To survive in the new economy, newspapers are challenged to position themselves as digitally integrated local media companies without alienating their traditional core readers. What does this new business model look like? This is a question that the entire industry, us included, has been experimenting with for the last several years. A model is beginning to emerge. It sounds simple, but newspapers must simultaneously find less expensive ways to do their jobs while finding new sources of revenue and listening better to their customers. Many newspapers are outsourcing printing and production to other printers so they can focus on a future when demand for print will likely be further diminished. This trend has actually helped us, as we now have a busy and successful printing operation. Like The News-Post, many newspapers are expanding into promoting, organizing and holding events, and offering digital agency services such as search engine optimization, reputation management and social media services. Successfully capitalizing on these new revenue sources, as well as emerging digital technologies, will allow us to continue to invest in the community we have loved and served for generations.
As I take the reins as chief operating officer, leading this charge is my primary focus. But I — we — need your help. How can we continue to provide you with what is important to you in a changing world? What aren’t we doing that you would like us to do? Where should we be focusing our attention? What are we missing? We have a lot of ideas and experience, but for too long our industry has been too internally focused. We know we need to change, but we need to change with you — the community that we serve.
Keep an eye out for more from me in the future. We are planning a meet-and-greet event for our members in the coming month to continue this conversation, but if you have questions or comments in the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out to me, or any of us on the management team.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you. And thanks for reading.