Very Dull Election Brings Out 22%

Despite e-mails, direct mail and cable access TV shows, only 22% of the town’s registered voters went to the polls April 28.

It appears there is no way to get people to care about voting when they don’t see clearcut issues.

There were only a few races on the ballot. John Shields got a free ride back to the Selectmen’s table. Both Mary Kelly and Lynda Lee Sheridan walked back to School Committee without a challenge.

The override election won’t happen until June.

Any guesses what the turnout will be for that election?

Curry One and Rotary Celebrate

Human rights are the way to eradicate poverty, Dr. Amii Omara-Otunnu told a gathering at Curry College on April 15.

Dr. Omara-Otunnu is  UNESCO chair of comparative human rights and a teacher at the University of Connecticutt. He traveled to Milton to speak to students from One Curry.

Several members of Milton Rotary were on hand for the discussion.

Rotary and One Curry worked together over the past year to raise enough money to build a well in the village of Bor in the Sudan. The location was chosen by one Curry since one of the current Curry seniors esacped from the Sudan during a time of genocide.

Peter Nhiany, one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan, has been committed to the project to bring a supply of clean water to the village where members of his family still live. The One Curry project raised about $11,000. The Rotary Club raised about $6,000.

Still the well is on the drawing board due to equipment issues in the region. Bob Reetz of Rotary says the well will be in place by next spring.

We Began on the Dining Room Table

The first few issues of the Milton Times were produced at my dining room table in Milton.

My daughter and my mother worked with me to paste up the copy.

My daughter had lived around newspapers most of her life. When she was four years old, she used to visit the newsroom of the daily where I worked after day care. She would wander around, talk with other reporters, help the janitor sweep the floor, draw on old newsprint. It was a good life.

June had come into my life in 1974 – I was 28, divorced and wanting very much to be a mother. That was the year the state decided single people were suitable as adoptive parents. Not long after she and I became a family, my co-workers took over the newsroom to give us a toy shower.

That was one of the best days of my life. My co-workers were truly all the family I needed back then. I was incredibly grateful for the friendships.

Time passed and somehow the corporations that were gobbling up newspapers had pushed me out of the world of reporting. By then I had two children and no other source of financial suppport.

I had learned much about newspapers over the years. I had learned that you needed to know who you were writing for. You needed to know how to get the paper to your market. And you needed to know who would pay to be included in that news vehicle. The bottom line needed to fill a need for the advertisers.

Knowing all that, I also knew that I probably had to own a newspaper if I wanted to avoid another layoff.

I expected my two children would help me if I started a newspaper. I was surprised that my mother was willing to take a role.

But in 1995, I sat at the dining room table late into the night with my daughter and my mother using rubber cement to glue the first issues. Desktop publishing created the ability to print crisp fonts with a regular laser printer. My mother was the one who understood what Milton was really about. I understood news and technology. My daughter’s strong suit was graphic design and computer savvy.

I’m not sure whether either of them were having fun.

I know I was sure we could do this but I also realized it would take at least a year of crazy long hours with no guarantee of a return. But I also realized I had to make it work – or find another way to pay the household bills.

My son, who was still in high school, was willing to handle the newspaper deliveries for the price of a used car. That was probably one of the best deals I ever made.

There were so many people who helped me without asking for anything in return. Writers donated their work. Photographers took pictures. A woman who had once worked for the other paper in town offered to sell advertising space.

The number of gifts continues to overwhelm me. I need to spend a long time creating a list of the generous people who encouraged me. So many wonderful people.

Connecting with Constant Contact

For 13 years the Milton Times has had a Web site.

Our first Web site was a single page with a modicum of information about the company. We left it untouched for about six months until my two children decided to take control of the site and make a few changes.

We have gone through many changes since then. We have designed a Web strategy that encourages people to buy our print product – and our Web site offers information on Milton’s top story each week.

Anyway, Ed Baker, who writes the With the Athletes column has a following of former Milton people who live in at least 15 states.  We took his column off our Web site for a while a year ago. That’s how we discovered his widespread popularity. We knew he has been a key piece of our paper’s popularity – we now know he has nation-wide appeal among people with Milton connections.

And so we are beginning a new way of delivering With the Athletes. We are testing out a service that will send Ed’s column each Thursday to an e-mail address. We are beginning the service with an introductory offer. A subscription will cost $10 for one year.

 Constant Contact, an e-mail subscription service, will help us create the new way of helping people keep up with Milton sports stars.

Once I Was an Investigative Reporter

patphoto.jpgLong ago I worked at the Patriot Ledger on what we jokingly called the flashlight team. I had been a beat reporter and a general assignment reporter. For a time I was something called a Saturday city editor.

The Ledger was a very good newspaper in those days and the reporters on the news staff were idealistic and commited to excellence. It was a great joy to work there in the 1960s and 1970s. I left in 1981.

It’s not that the Ledger has deteriorated – it was a financial question.

When I began at the Ledger, it was owned by the Low family.  The family owned the paper for 160 years before it was sold to a publically held corporation.  I didn’t work there at the time of the sale. But I did work there as the operation moved from being a patriarchial culture to being a business that concentrated on the bottom line.

Now there is nothing wrong with an emphasis on keeping a business in the black ink.

But the very first thing that impressed me about the company was that in the 1960s when a long-term reporter named Percy Lane was slowly dying of cancer, he was kept on the payroll. He was paid without working for a full year before he died. The family treated its staff very well.

Of course, a business can only do that when there is enough money.

Election Nears

The town election is coming soon. But there is little interest in this particular election – few races, few issues defined by the candidates.

The three candidates for treasurer all say they are the most experienced.

The six candidates for library trustees, including the incumbent, all want the same things for the future – Sunday openings and good service.

It is more exciting when there are many races and many pressing issues. The town faces serious issues this year. The Milton Times continues to focus on what is important to the community.

Even without strong differences between the candidates, it is important to vote April 28. Voting is our right and privilege.

Print Vs. Web

From time to time people call the Milton Times office and ask us why they can’t find a story from the print issue on our Web site.

The answer is: our print product feeds our families. Our weekly newspaper is something we are proud of. We sell it in single copies and in yearly subscriptions. The eight people employed by the Times and all our regular contributors enjoy what they do for a living. Why else would they do what they do for so little financial return?

Have you heard that the Globe is losing money? Well, the Milton Times continues to break even. The Globe places all its information on line. We don’t.  Do you know that the Globe has the 4th most well read news Web site in the US? If that led to succes, we would try to follow the model.

We think we have a mission that works.

It is to respectfully inform the population of Milton MA what is happening in this community of 26,000.We seek to be reliable, accurate and timely. Good grammar and good taste are underlying principles. We focus on the positive and attempt to reflect the views of the whole community. 

We believe helping our advertisers market their products will help us continue to grow. We believe that a quality product will lead to continued increases in readership.  

Organized News Junkie Needed Temporarily

Our circulation manager is taking off a month this summer. One of the members of our editorial staff will be off for July and August.

The summer is always slow at a weekly like the Milton Times.

But someone has to process the information that comes our way. So we are looking for an intern who can multi-task to fill in during the months of July and August.

Not only does the person need to be a good typist with a great sense of grammar, but she or he also need to take care of our billing on a temporary basis.

This is a low paying position that is a great learning experience.

The successful candidate will be a news junkie, who can juggle telephone calls, e-mails and more. The candidate could be required to work occasional evenings gathering news from town government organizations. It might even be possible that the job would require handling newspaper deliveries to about 20 stores in and around Milton.

A Family Business

The Milton Times was nurtured into existence by my nuclear family.

In 1995 my daughter, June, my son, Tim, and my mother, Mary Erwin, created the first issue of the paper. We each brought a different set of skills to the table.

Today the ownership of the paper belongs to me and my two children. But I’m the only one still sitting in the Times office.

June is the mother of two. She lives in New Hampshire where she works for the Salvation Army as a case manager and cares for my two adorable grandchildren. Tim is a psychotherapist who works as program manager for a special pre-school in Oakland, CA. He lives with in Muir Beach with a woman he calls his significant other.

Both of my children help keep the newspaper on track despite their distance and other priorities. They toss my own words back at me if I’m wobbling.

Economic Pressures Refine the Operation

The Milton Times, like most businesses in the region this year, is faced with a cash flow issue. Figures from the first quarter of 2009 just don’t match 2008.

The simple solution is to cut expenses. The riskier solution is to use credit to fill the gap. But one real alternative is to concentrate on new revenue.

This week the circulation manager, Judy McDonough, and I talked about our subscriber base and ways we can lean on that base to increase the company’s cash flow. At the beginning of the year, we created a slight increase in the price of  an in-town subscription. Despite that increase, the circulation revenue has remained flat.

Our in-town subscription is a great deal. Not only does the post office handle weekly delivery but in-town subscribers save more than 30% over the newsstand price.  

Our hope is that we don’t have to do anything that will diminish our product. So this week we are going through our subscriber list to see whether there might be people who have been receiving the paper as part of a past promotion. We need to be sure we are covering our costs. These changes are a good thing.

Cutting waste is always a positive step.