Other editors and publishers, including my longtime colleague Richard Meeker at Willamette Week, publish annual reports to their readers. It makes sense. We run community institutions. Here is my first attempt at this exercise.
Our industry overdoes its fear of the changing market. While it's true the ground is shifting beneath our feet, it's also shifting under the feet of other media. No one has a guarantee that their customers will be there tomorrow. At the East Oregonian and its sister newspapers, we earn our revenue anew - every day and every week. We also scout constantly for new opportunities.
It was a very good year for our family-owned company. Our six-newspaper group earned sufficient income in the prior fiscal year to pay our long-term obligations, retire some debt, invest in new technology and earn a respectable profit.
That profit will be shared with our employees. One of the relatively unique aspects of the East Oregonian Publishing Co. is that we have a 401k program which matches employees' contributions, and we have a profit-sharing program. You seldom find both of those benefits in one company.
On the expense side of our operation, health care costs are a major factor. We face the same challenge as myriad of other employers. Like General Motors, which has paid more for health care than for steel, our company occasionally has paid more for health care than for newsprint and ink.
The East Oregonian newspaper underwent significant change this past year. We made significant changes in management personnel and returned to six-day publication. Early results are promising.
Under the new management of Editor & Publisher George Murdock and General Manager Wendy DalPez, the EO made significant gains in advertising in the fiscal year that ended with June.
Our circulation operations are more oriented toward customer service. And the newsroom is paying better attention to agriculture, local business and the institutions and people of Pendleton, Hermiston and surrounding communities.
Our company prospers by deriving profit from small, rural markets and from one niche publication that serves the agricultural sector of four states. There was progress across the board in our community newspapers last fiscal year. The Daily Astorian turned a certain corner in profitability. The Blue Mountain Eagle in John Day had a phenomenal gain. The Chinook Observer in Long Beach made a substantial gain.
One of the new opportunities we are scouting is a prospective acquisition. We do not operate on the level of Rupert Murdoch. This will be a strategic addition for us, helping solidify a portion of one of our markets.
Like Mark Twain who said rumors of his death were premature, newspaper publishers should disclaim the notion their products are about to be swept into history's dustbin. It is true, of course, that our products are changing radically. We have an Internet presence at our newspapers with text, audio and video features that would amaze and perhaps baffle my late father, and he died only seven years ago.
The pace of change is dramatic, but the knack of survival is to remain focused on providing high-quality content to customers. We're doing that in new ways and old.
Over the next four years, our company will publish four books.
Our first, Fort Clatsop: Rebuilding an Icon, will be released in November. Built on the reportage of former reporter Tom Bennett, the book recounts the burning of Fort Clatsop and the rebuilding of that replica.
The book also recounts the search for the tract of land on which Lewis and Clark built Fort Clatsop and the legislative initiative to create the national memorial.
Our second book will mark the centennial of the Pendleton Round-Up.
Our third and fourth will mark the bicentennial of Astoria. The latter two books will be a cooperative venture of The Daily Astorian and the Clatsop County Historical Society.
On the media side, we began in the last fiscal year to offer photographs from our newspapers for sale online. We'll move that opportunity into a new dimension with release of our Pendleton Round-Up book.
That volume will contain photographs from the Howdyshell Collection, a rodeo archive of which relatively little has been published. In concert with the book, we'll offer photographs from the Howdyshell Collection for sale, online.
Similarly, we are discussing with the Clatsop County Historical Society a similar opportunity, whereby photographs from its extensive photo archive could be displayed and sold online.
We operate in a sometimes breathless arena of transformation. We're running fast, and I'm pleased to report the future looks promising.
Steve Forrester is president and CEO of the East Oregonian Publishing Group and serves as editor & publisher of The Daily Astorian.