Every year, on this newspaper's anniversary, I issue a report to readers. As I say each year in this space, and mean sincerely: You are our reason for being. So you should know how we're doing, and how we see WW's place in the world.
Q: What's the big picture?
A: Yuck! Delighted as I am by Barack Obama's election, I'm under no illusion next year will be anything other than a challenge. The U.S. economy is headed for a fundamental reset, and Portland won't escape the painful implications.
Q: What's this mean for Willamette Week?
A: Financially, it's lousy. Advertising, the source of most of our revenue, has been down since July. This year to date, we're more than 10 percent below budget. We've suffered an additional whammy from the skyrocketing increase in our single biggest cost—printing. As a consequence, we've had to lay off several people. Most of the cuts have been related to our classifieds department, but we've also lost a reporter and a columnist. Overall, we'll be lucky to eke out a small profit this year. The first part of next year looks to be even more challenging. WW's other owner, Editor Mark Zusman, and I have been working to find additional savings. At the same time, we are truly fortunate that our other paper, the Reporter in Santa Fe, N.M., is doing well.
Q. Can any good come of this for WW?
A: We hope so. The most important indicator of our long-term health is our relationship with you. Unlike daily newspapers, which are not just losing revenue but also losing readers—The Oregonian's weekday circulation is down 8.45 percent from last year, for example—our total audience has remained steady over the past year. In addition, while daily newspapers are failing to attract younger, more educated readers, WW's share of that group of readers continues to grow. On top of that, our website has more than 175,000 "absolute unique visitors." As a result, just as we've pretty much surpassed the daily when it comes to local entertainment advertising, we now have a similarly strong case to make to local retailers: They can reach a better audience—more effectively and efficiently—through WW.
Q: Can you back up that readership information?
A: The Web data comes from Google Analytics. As for print readership: The Media Audit, produced by International Demographics, an independent market-research firm, says WW reaches more than 350,000 Portlanders. And just last week we received Part I of a study conducted by Deputy Consulting, a local branding and marketing outfit. Deputy concludes, in terms of Portland-area audience, "WW is on par with The Oregonian" and ahead of all other print media in town. Deputy's report also notes, "WW beats out The Oregonian in uniqueness, different opinions, and thought provocation."
Q. Why do you think that is?
A: First, we've continued to produce good work. A recent case in point: Our endorsements issue on Oct. 15. In it, our editorial staff painstakingly analyzed the candidates and measures and made recommendations that you, according to your responses, found very informative. (We also posted videos of our endorsement interviews with candidates and were encouraged by how much Web traffic they generated.) In that same issue, we picked the town's 100 best restaurants. This doesn't come easy—or cheap. We visit, revisit, and hash out hundreds of restaurants throughout the year to come up with final choices for our Restaurant Guide. More than 99 percent of the 90,000 copies of WW printed that week were picked up—a response that tells us our efforts are worth it. Others in our profession also have paid us high praise. Though we don't know how much stock to put in awards, WW has gotten plenty. Take a look at wweek.com/wwire/?p=12074 for a partial list of this year's accolades from the Oregon chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Q: What else?
A: Over the past year, we've had a lot of fun in ways that extend our journalistic DNA. For example, we hosted an Election Night party at Grand Central Bowl attended by more than 1,200 raucous, engaged and very happy voters. A few weeks before, we held the second of this year's Candidates Gone Wild events, a fun evening of politics we put on with the Bus Project at the Roseland Theater. At that point, we had barely caught our breath from September's MusicfestNW, where we offered some 15,000 of you a terrific indie lineup. Or maybe you were one of the 1,000-plus readers who made it to the Best of Portland party we held in our parking lot in July. Last—and most important—today marks the kickoff of our fifth annual Give!Guide. We're urging you to support a number of very special local nonprofits. You'll find profiles of them—as well as four Skidmore Prize winners—in the colorful booklet inserted in this week's paper. Online at wweek.com/giveguide, you can learn about the nearly $100,000 in incentives we offer donors. We hope you'll be enticed to let your debit and credit cards run wild. Last year, over 3,200 of you gave more than half a million dollars. Stop reading for a moment and pat yourself on the back. From what we've seen and read, you are the most generous newspaper readers anywhere in America.
Q: What's in store for the year ahead?
A: First off, it's WW's 35th anniversary, so expect a special celebration—as well as some commemorative journalism. We'll continue to publish strong interpretive and investigative reporting. We'll also continue to provide Portland's most comprehensive, opinionated calendar listings. And, to help you deal with the economy, we'll be making more of an effort to encourage you to shop locally. (Check out the spanking-new column that debuts this week on page 28.) Our website continues to allow us to break news rapidly and move into the world of video. We've even developed a nifty iPhone application that allows you to check out our restaurant listings, film reviews and music events on your phone, with links to maps to help you get there. To try this out on your iPhone, go to wweek.com/iphone.
Overall, despite the current economic mess, we're excited about change at the White House, eager to tackle the challenges we all now face, and more committed than ever to continuing—and improving—the quality of reporting and thinking we do. Mark Zusman and I have owned and operated this newspaper for 25 years now. We remain incredibly fortunate to have you at our side. By reading WW and wweek.com regularly and critically, by giving us story ideas, by shopping our advertisers, and by continuing to be actively engaged in the life of this great community, you provide the oxygen we need to thrive.