Thanksgiving week is both a very complicated and busy week around Minot Daily News, and also a slower than usual time for the newsroom at the paper?
How’s that, you might wonder.
The delivered/purchased Thanksgiving Day newspaper is routinely the largest, physically, edition of the year for most publishers. The girth comes from the sales circulars client businesses place in the paper in advance of Black Friday and the official kickoff of the official holiday shopping season. It’s an annual tradition and a standard in the industry. The result is that the Thanksgiving issue of the paper is frequently the most important single issue of the year for newspapers, from the business end of things.
The Thanksgiving issue is also one of the most complicated issues to plan, produce and distribute. Ironically, perhaps, the difficulty rests largely on the other departments in a newspaper, not the editorial department. Such was the case around MDN this week.
As editor, I would love to think that readers are waiting in anticipation for our content on the holiday. As a realist, I am aware that what most readers want from that particular issue is the advertising content. Our biggest challenge is planning use of our editorial space with this understanding in mind. I would not, for example, plan to run an explosive piece of investigative journalism on Thanksgiving. Readers are simply preoccupied with other things for the holiday and I wouldn’t want to risk readers missing something they really need to know.
Thus, most of last week our responsibility was to offer support for the other departments that carry the bulk of the Thanksgiving issue pressure. We complete the editorial component of the Thanksgiving newspaper very early, so it can get to press and then be bundled with the mass of sales circulars, and delivered on time. So from a news perspective, it is a pretty slow week for us overall. Our time was spent putting together material appropriate for the occasion, covering what serious spot news there was, planning for the weeks ahead and trying to support the other divisions of the paper.
The real work last week was that of the Circulation department (including carriers), mail room (where the magical inserts happen) and the press room. There are dozens of moving pieces that have to be coordinated and executed properly and on a complex, tight schedule. Distribution – and re-distribution – of the paper is a huge undertaking. Our regular readers get impatient if we are late with delivery; our enhanced Thanksgiving audience is even more so. Like a complex machine, all aspects of the company had to work together just right to execute the holiday paper.
We’re fortunate at MDN to have very good people in these other departments. Some of you might remember three-plus years ago when the paper struggled with print quality and distribution. Through the efforts of back-to-back publishers and an infusion of new talent in these other departments, those problems are a thing of the past. We have solid, responsible press operators. We have improved procedures in Circulation. We have new, solid leadership in the mail room.
Furthermore, teamwork at MDN is excellent these days. Departments work together better than when I first arrived (although the timing is coincidental and not of my doing), there is better coordination, communication, and sense of pride. This cooperation between departments was key to getting the Thanksgiving paper out.
If most weeks, MDN can be evaluated largely by content and sales, last week’s big paper is the result of the other departments working together and with sales and editorial supporting the effort.
I’m not exactly an expert in some of these aspects of newspaper. So, I admit that with editorial responsibilities limited, and my excellent, veteran staff well aware of our role, I spent some time last week asking questions, picking Publisher Dan McDonald’s brain on this whole process and observing the work of the other departments. I am infinitely curious about these other aspects of our paper and like to learn something new every day.
What I learned is that our other departments, the ones that don’t get the glory or catch the attention of readers every day, are very good at MDN. Readers might have existing relationships with editorial and sales, and our longtime carriers have whole ranges of good relationships with their longterm clients. But when one gets to see the entire operation work together under unusual circumstances, it is quite a marvel.
MDN’s Circulation department, its mail room led by Michael Williams and press room led by Walt Berg did a tremendous job last week getting our Thanksgiving issue out.
Meanwhile, in editorial, we did our best to act in a support capacity and look forward to the days and weeks ahead, as always. As we do, I think we all have a better idea of the critical role of our other divisions, even when they’re less in the spotlight than last week.