Some things change, some will always stay the same

posted June 12, 2017 9:58 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Jim Massey, Editor |

Employees at The Country Today and our sister publication, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, got some big news on May 31 when we were told that as of the next day, June 1, our parent company, the Eau Claire Press Co., was being sold.

To say we were a bit surprised would be an understatement. Family ownership by the Graaskamp and Atkinson families was all we had known as employees of the Eau Claire Press Co. In an era of media company buyouts, the Eau Claire Press Co. had somehow fought off all advances. The two families had owned the newspaper for 130 years, which was four generations of the Graaskamp family and five generations of the Atkinsons.

That longevity is virtually unheard of these days in the newspaper industry. 

There was comfort in working for a family-owned company. Control was local and there wasn’t a long chain of command for getting something done. If we wanted to try something different next week, we simply did it. No questions asked.

But there comes a time in the life of many businesses when it’s difficult to go it alone. 

“At a board strategic planning session, we discussed the long-term viability of an independently owned family media company,” Eau Claire Press Co. President and CEO Pieter Graaskamp said in the news release announcing the sale. “We came to the difficult decision nearly a year ago that selling was the best option for our companies and the communities we serve.”

If the Press Co. was going to be sold, it appears the newspaper’s owners couldn’t have found a much friendlier buyer. The Adams Publishing Group, like the ECPC, is family owned, just at a bit larger level. APG owns 65 newspapers and also operates a number of other businesses, including Adams Outdoor, Fairway Outdoor, Adams Radio Group, Good Sam, Camping World, and wineries and vineyards in the U.S. and Europe. Diversification can be a good thing. 

All of the newspapers APG owns have been purchased within the past three years. The Leader-Telegram and The Country Today are among the largest of the newspapers in the Adams fold.

“There are a number of outstanding suitors across the country; but when we met the members of the Adams family, we felt from the beginning that they would be an excellent choice to succeed our families,” Graaskamp said.

“Through generations of stewardship, the Eau Claire Press Co. has sought to be considered one of the most respected newspapers and digital companies in the country,” new owner Stephen Adams said. “We salute the Atkinson and Graaskamp families and all of their associates for their fine work, and look forward to a prosperous future.”

All of the ECPC’s employees have been offered employment and benefits with Adams Publishing Group, so out of the gate, there will be no big changes.

But we won’t insult our readers’ intelligence to the point of saying there will be no changes in the future. The media business is always changing, just like most other businesses we interact with on a day-to-day basis. We have all seen the newspaper industry change incrementally over the years, and that, we are sure, will continue.

In a meeting with Adams Regional President Chris Knight, he assured me that The Country Today would have a solid future in the Adams business plan. We talked about things we could do to improve the product for our readers and to improve the bottom line for the company.

We know there will be readers who read about this sale and think the worst. They have seen what newspaper buyouts by Gannett and other newspaper chains have meant to the publications they have purchased. It hasn’t always been pretty.

When I shared the news of the sale on my Facebook page, a reader quickly responded with an “Oh, oh, looks like I might have sent my renewal in too soon.” He then referred to the purchase of another newspaper, and how the new parent company “wrecked it in no time.”

Because that happened to another publication doesn’t mean it will happen with The Country Today. All we ask from our readers is patience and an opportunity to prove to you that we will continue to bring you award-winning news and feature stories every week, just as we have done for the past 40-plus years. 

Knight said what Adams emphasizes is local content, news and features that readers can’t get anywhere else. That was music to my ears, as that’s what The Country Today has been doing for four decades. 

We don’t tell people what the weather is going to be tomorrow — they can get that news instantaneously on their electronic devices. We don’t tell farmers what the latest market prices are at the moment — they can get that information on a more timely basis somewhere else, too.

But nowhere else can readers get professionally written stories about their friends and neighbors who live in rural Midwest communities. That’s what has made us so popular with our readers in the past, and that’s what will continue to make us valuable in the future.

So to our readers, we say thanks for being faithful to us for all these years, and please stick with us for the long haul. You’ll be glad you did.

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