Making the most out of The Vindicator


On the floor of the U.S. Senate last week, Sen. Sherrod Brown railed against the announcement of GM's idling of the Lordstown facility.

As his words flowed, he cited a tweet from Vindicator staffer Jordyn Grzelewski who wrote of the work being done that day to cover the story: "It was almost all hands on deck."

Brown said about the tweet: "Those reporters - not enemies of the people, but people willing to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, understood what these job losses will mean not just to those workers but to this community, the Mahoning Valley of about half a million people."

Brown's succinct words amid a Lordstown plea offered a great assessment of what we do.

Days before that happened, on the floor of a football stadium, young men from Girard High School competed for the chance to play last night for a state title. (They lost Saturday's title game.)

That high-scoring, back-forth game last Saturday was as exciting as a game could be.

Score for score, and sometimes play by play, The Vindy team was the only media in the Valley to provide critical up-to-minute coverage of this great moment in our beloved pastime. Thousands of people took part in that live coverage.

Dissecting the impact of events like Lordstown and celebrating the success of a group of citizens like the Girard football team is your local newspaper at its best.

Those events happened this week at the same time as we had to make tough reductions in our print edition. It's a constant exercise for any company to assign resources in a way to serve the way we think customers want.

Impacted this week included features like our outdoors writers, advice columns from Annie and Heloise, growing and gardening advice, reunions and community events.

A lot of the adjustments involved changing days, such as with reunions and community events. Some of the work involved eliminating, such as the outdoors columnists. Annie and Heloise were reduced by two days.

The changes generated many calls throughout the week. Many, many calls.

A decision between keeping Girard and Lordstown coverage vs. keeping Annie and Heloise seems obvious at first. (Right?)

But those calls and conversations this week reinforced what we've known for years: Every part of our newspaper is a staple for someone in the Valley. At this stage of our existence, there are few items to adjust that won't affect some reader.

Many callers were very polite in their discussions with us. (Hint: some weren't.)

In one reader phone call, we dissected other options to save space. "Can you cover less Trump," she suggested.

I asked: do you think we can get 300,000 people to agree on what should stay or go?

She laughed, and agreed that no we could not.

All media are rapidly changing as revenue streams shift. All are redefining space and place. Newspapers are especially active in this as our revenue streams have been most impacted.

Making the tough decisions as we did this week allows opportunity for deep print insight into the Lordstown matter. It got Sen. Brown's attention. We're also able to offer exclusive digital work for the Girard football game. The same can be said for other efforts, like our two years of pivotal opioids coverage, this fall's election coverage with broadcasts of Issue 1 and the governor's race, our expanded high school football coverage, our building the largest and most local digital news platform of all local media.

Those are examples of what you have with The Vindicator.

What we're still doing is publishing seven days per week and employing more than 200 people.

That is quickly becoming rare for a newspaper our size. Some peers have ceased some editions. Pittsburgh — much larger than us — just dropped two days from its lineup. It is America's largest city without a daily newspaper.

Even more rare for a group like ours is to have owners who live in the town and live with the same decisions all of our readers live with.

While we have to make permanent changes in this way, the changes we made this week are our best guesses. It's what we think is best as we adjust our offerings and listen to the feedback.

As noted above, we will never get 300,000 people to agree — even if we did 300,000 surveys. If we had time and budget to test such decisions for months in a journalism Petri dish, we still would not have a clear path of what's most vital.

So we make hard choices as we did this week, and measure and adjust over a few weeks. Bridge readers can attest to our adjusting after reducing. So, too, can John Rosemond readers.

So while we are right-sizing, what still happens are right decisions where it affects most of the Valley.

It was seen last week with Girard football.

And it was saluted last week with Sen. Brown on the Capitol floor.

You will continue to see it.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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