The following letters were written by founder Carmage Walls during the 1950's and1960's. They remain surprisingly fresh, and they are a cornerstone of our company's philosophy and approach to newspaper work.
Memo from the desk of Carmage Walls
This letter was written by me to a young man who was coming into a publishership. I had not had the opportunity of giving him my personal beliefs about the operation of a newspaper. I thought it might be useful in introducing myself, so that you might also get this in capsule form.
I have not had the opportunity of discussing with you my personal philosophy about service, personal and as a newspaper man, nor have we discussed much the philosophy about printing a newspaper.
First, my personal philosophy is rather simple. It is that wealth cannot be made by doing nothing, nor can we expect long to acquire something for nothing. Therefore, I have always striven to earn more, or to put it another way to give more into the world than I expect to take out for my own use and for the use of those that I am responsible for.
The same philosophy will partly apply to the newspaper. My conception of a newspaper is that it is the greatest force for good or evil in a community. It is a semi-public utility. We who are fortunate in holding stock in a newspaper I consider but temporary custodians of this service vehicle in the community. By our ownership of the stock we also assume tremendous responsibilities, first to the public that we service, second to the employees and lastly to the stockholders.
We who are responsible for the publication of newspapers must have the courage to never connive with special interests against the interest and welfare of the mass of people that we serve. We must have the courage to do that which may be unpleasant to maintain the health of the whole being of the newspaper.
And to maintain the health nothing can do this so much as first keeping our minds on the matter of service to the mass that we serve, and second keeping the property in the black financially enough so that you cannot ever feel that you can be coerced into doing that which you feel should not be done or leave undone that which should be done for the betterment of our communities and our newspaper.
With these things in mind, then we can approach the problem objectively.
As publisher, to bring this about on the Elizabethton Star, the financial health, that is, you should do the following:
Study each department of the newspaper and see if it is operating efficiently. Determine if the attitude of the employees of each department is optimistic and one that understands the opportunity for service that they hold. If they do not they should be sold on these opportunities or eventually failing that, they should be replaced.
Where unnecessary functions are being performed or unnecessary positions being filled these should be eliminated. Where luxury items or duplicate services are being bought and not used, these should be pared down to the necessities and what the Elizabethton Star can afford. Keep in mind that we are not able to print a big town paper on a small town economy and potential. But, also keep in mind that we want to strive for one of the best newspapers in cities of our size.
After the above things have been done, then it is time to look to the additional revenue. So many newspapers make a big and continuing effort to sell display lineage and overlook other opportunities to add to their profit or income.
Look at your circulation and see that there is no waste. That is always a possible source of losing revenue through loose handling of the department or letting money that should end in the cash register vanish into thin air. Attain efficiency in the department that does not curtail service. Hold subscribers that can be handled at least on a break-even basis.
Look to the national advertising selling. Just because we have a contract with a national rep., do not sit back and cuss him for lack of performance. We have proven that national is also sold locally. Let's arrange to have that worked to its maximum and when the national rep. that we have finishes his contract we will join our own.
Look to the classified department. My theory on the selling of classified is that the last dollars that you squeeze out of this department, that if the selling cost of and composing production and newsprint on which to print these last ads do not cost more than 50 cents of each sales dollar, that the remainder will go into the profit column. On the face of this it seems contradictory, but when you consider that if you do not sell this additional copy, that it does not reduce your fixed costs of printing, such as rent, editorial and other costs, you will then see the soundness of the theory. I have proven it to my own satisfaction.
And then lastly look to the development of new business in the display department. The same philosophy that I have applied to Classified will also apply to new business created or special advertising sold in the display department.
I developed a policy in Macon, Georgia, where I last was directly a publisher of a newspaper, that provided for the following: After we were absolutely sure that the salesmen that we had on the job were as good as we could obtain and that they were doing a maximum day's work, then after that we would add another salesman. We did not divide up the accounts with this new salesman. He was ploughing strictly in new ground. If he was good enough to bring in the first month twice the amount of his salary, from strictly new ground that would not have been worked by the older salesmen, then we kept him on and watched him. If he continued to grow from that point, we kept him on as a regular.
Another important thing that the manager of a newspaper must do is to have the courage to review his rates and to not be afraid to charge what his product is worth on the one hand and what he must charge to make a good profit on the other. And a correct charge does not mean what a neighboring newspaper may be charging. It might have a coward for a manager, who does not have the courage to charge what he should. That kind of manager will beat down his employees pay, print an inferior product rather than face his advertisers with a bill that would make it possible for him to pay fair wages, print a decent newspaper and make a good profit.
And by good profit I mean one that is fairly large in these days of lush economy. If we do not make a good profit now, what shall happen to us when and if things are not as good economically as they are now?
My theory on the lowest rate to quantity advertisers is arrived at as follows: From total expense and that means all expense on the P&L statement, deduct circulation and all other non-advertising revenue. Divide into this remaining cost the number of paid advertising inches for the period under consideration. This will give you the cost per inch that advertising must carry in order to print. Some people will come up with the argument that department store advertising and other types should have special consideration because they are not as hard to set, etc. This is a fallacious theory. If you have any advertisers that go below this formula, you would do well to act as rapidly as possible to bring them up within it.
And finally if it is necessary to raise rates in order to have the financial health that is desirable, then raise the rates as rapidly and as definitely as necessary.
Because a person was on the job when we take over the management of a newspaper does not mean necessarily that he is best fitted to that particular job. And sometimes we find people that are not fitted to the newspaper business. The correction of these situations are always difficult.
However, when we consider that the quality of the product, that we are delivering to our subscribers is involved, and the permanence and welfare of those employees who do fit and earn their place, and when finally we know that a person who is a misfit in a job is usually unhappy, that we serve all three of these factors including the misfit employees when the situation is corrected.
I have been accused of being tough in my approach to this particular type of situation. However, in all my experience I have not made a change in such a situation but that the person involved was done a great favor.
Let's hope that you do not have any such as one of your particular problems.
Very sincerely,Carmage Walls
P.S. And finally the formula for making a profit becomes ridiculously simple. Just,
SPEND LESS MONEY THAN YOU TAKE IN.
And it can be done.
January 17,1962Mr. Allen Kander 1730 K Street N.W. Washington 6, D.C.
The attached memo undertook to put down on paper some helpful thoughts for a young man. I would like to add some thoughts, because you should know how I think.
I believe our democracy and way of life in this country could not be continued without our free press.
I believe that the Editorial opinion is not as important and influential as it once was; but, nevertheless, it is still important. It is all important still to keep the public honestly informed.
I am convinced that too many newspapers are edited to please the publisher-owner-editor without enough regard to the reader.
I believe that news stories generally are too long and that a great majority of people in the average city do not have the capacity to read fast while many others do not have the time. Therefore, I believe it the duty of a news editor to cut the superfluous "hay" out of stories but give a greater number of stories in less space. By so doing you serve the majority of the reading public and keep them better informed.
I believe that the few hundred people in any city who have the capacity and the time -- as well as the desire for more volume -- will subscribe to and read The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or a similar product.
Therefore, I have two yardsticks by which to measure the efficiency of the editorial product;
As to a newspaper's position in the controversial South relative to the integration problems, I am in favor of a middle road. I agree with the methods followed generally in North Carolina. We are a part of the United States, and we must so consider.