A few weeks ago in our Nov. 18 issue, we wrote about the number of newspapers that had started up - and already begun to fail - following the bankruptcy of the Eagle Times organization last July. I also mentioned the controversy created when the new owners of the Eagle Times newspaper group - the Samples News Group out of Pennsylvania - accepted a $250,000 loan, 75 percent of which was backed by a guarantee from the State of New Hampshire.
There have been more local paper casualties since that column, in fact, one of the new weeklies has already lost its editor after just five issues.
In that November column, we also expressed a deep concern we had at that time about some unethical advertising pricing practices that were beginning to rear their ugly heads. We wrote:
"The last few months have seen some cutthroat and at times questionable pricing practices in the local newspaper advertising world as a handful of papers vie for the limited advertising dollars in this area. More papers will fail, and more jobs will be lost, especially if the practices continue."
We also questioned "how a large, out of the region newspaper chain, now with a quarter million dollar state guaranteed loan to float on, will fit into that mix remains to be seen.
"But I'm sure we'll all be watching with keen interest!"
Well, we've been watching, and it seems the questionable pricing practices are not only continuing, but getting worse. Our clients repeatedly tell us of our competitors coming in and cutting their rates by 40 percent, 60 percent, 70 percent and more in order to get their business. Some clients have been offered free advertising.
We cannot blame a business for accepting these incredibly cheap advertising rates - we're sure we'd do it too if we had a business in this area. When a paper can offer you a half page ad for a third or a quarter of what you'd normally pay, a business would be crazy not to accept, even though those ads are obviously being sold at a loss to the paper.
What we question are the ethics of those sort of sales tactics. We've tried our best to take the high road in this matter for some time now, even changing our name when asked, hoping that the practice would end after the initial startup. It hasn't.
We question the ethics of accepting a state-backed loan, then using the money to run the business at a loss in order to undercut and put down the competition. Even using a large company's deep pockets to fund a practice like that is, if not unethical, certainly unprofessional. Too many in society today have lost respect for good, fair competition and a "win at all cost" attitude seems to be prevailing more often then not.
Most of the other papers that have started up here have done it ethically, with incredibly hard work and the professionalism to produce a high quality product, and that's what we've been trying to do, with limited finances. We've tried to compete on a level playing field, letting the quality of our paper and the professionalism of our staff speak for us.
Almost to a person, every member of this staff has rejected multiple and very generous offers to depart the Outlook and jump ship. We feel we've started something special here, in returning this paper to an independent Vermont ownership, and our team is committed to see it through together.
We don't mind the competition. Not at all. In fact, we thrive on it. We feel the Green Mountain Outlook is the most professional, highest quality weekly in the region, and it's only going to get better. We work very hard at that, and we know that area businesses and our readers can see it.
All we ask is that we all compete honestly, ethically and professionally. Let's keep the playing field level.