January 6, 2005

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if the newspaper went public? Of course we are all about going public with all the news, but my question regards community ownership via the sale of stock. Sure, just like any other business, we depend on our customers. It still can be a little frustrating this time of year when folks come in to renew their subscriptions and hand out ultimatums and mandates along with their check for $25.56.

Thatís why I posed the stock question, for those folks that feel like they should have a voice in the decision making process courtesy of their subscription. If each subscription counted as one share in the newspaper ownership, then maybe these readers that clamor for change or demand modification of the newspaper would realize they are just one of the 2,300+ stock holders. Each stock owner has a say in what is in each weekly edition of the Memphis Democrat. Thus, just because you, the owner of only one of 2,300 some votes, wants to see less sports coverage, more photos of your grandchild or absolutely no court news involving your name, you must realize that the 2,299 other votes out weigh your solo ballot.

Of course the key to all of this discussion is me, the chairman of the board, who retains veto power over all stockholderís proposals. As owner, believe me I have thousands and thousands of my own subscription checks invested in the company. I donít let the power go to my head (at least not too often), meaning I do listen to suggestions and requests. We hope that readers will tell us what they would like to see in the newspaper.

Please understand that we have a small staff, with limited resources, so we canít publish a 60-page weekly issue with nationwide coverage. Also, remember that the newspaper must cater to all of our readers. That means there may be some things in the paper that you donít particularly care to read. Trust me, if all 2,300 readers told me they didnít want to read any more ďWhat ifsĒ Iíd stop racking my brain for topics. But if you donít like ďWhat ifĒ, donít read it. However, there are at least three or four people that like to hear my opinion, so Iíll keep editorializing (at least from time to time when I can escape the ever consuming writerís block.)

Besides, we are supposed to be unbiased. Say an advertiser was arrested for a crime and threatened to pull all of their promotional money from the newspaper if we publish the news. Is the paper supposed to bow down to this type of extortion?

Iím happy to listen to suggestions, and Iíll even courteously lend an ear to your criticisms and complaints. Call me stubborn or proud or whatever, but I donít respond too well to demands. Trust me, we need every one of our readers to renew their subscriptions, but if youíre going to try to hold that $25 check over our heads to make the newspaper meet your personal requirements, donít hold your breath.

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