Wednesday, May 6, 2009

As the BRBJ Ship Nears the Waterline

My late employer, the Blue Ridge Business Journal, is apparently seeing a deepening of the financial hole it has dug itself. Now even Steve Brewer, solid, slow, competent Steve, has left the fold, having had it up to here.

From what I've been able to judge at a distance in the past several issues, Steve, the Lynchburg advertising representative and the senior staff member (and the last full-time man left at the publication), was leading the field in ad sales (judging from the number of Lynchburg ads vs. Roanoke/New River ads) and he wasn't exactly killing the competition with four sales. I made some loose estimates at what has happened to the Journal's ad revenues (which set records for the first half of last year, before Tom Field and I left, trailed by the two top ad sales people) and it appeared that sales were at about 30 percent of where they should have been. That number has been confirmed.

Steve's departure follows by two weeks that of ad designer Cricket Powell and now the senior staff person has a little more than a year in the trenches. If you're counting turnover in the past eight months, that'd be about 80 percent.

The publication's Book of Lists, which was a solid profit center in the past, last year bringing in more than $75,000, was sent to the printer this week, I've learned, hitting 34 percent of its advertising goal. The BOL often pulled us out of the winter doldrums when things were slow. Not this time.

The editorial content is poor and uninspired. There is no personality to the publication and it reads as if it was thrown together at the last minute with no focus.

The ship keeps sinking and, frankly, I don't know how much deeper it can go before it disappears and the mothership (The Roanoke Times) is forced to abandon it. Subsidizing a poor performer which has no real market potential is not what troubled newspapers generally consider prudent. This is a tough time for publications, but this is ridiculous.

When times are tough, the dedicated work harder and smarter. I'm not seeing a lot of that in my old haunt. I feel bad for some of the good people left there, trying to struggle through the incompetence surrounding them. Wish we could offer a couple of them jobs.

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