By Rudi Alcott, Mirror publisher (2008-2017)
Nine years – or 3,312 days, to be exact – was the length of time I had the privilege of being the publisher of the Federal Way Mirror.
There’s no fake news here. No revisionist history. Simply my take on my time in the hot seat.
I started in February 2008 when the Mirror was still in its former location in Celebration Center. At that time, we were a twice weekly newspaper struggling to make a mark in Federal Way.
Our editorial product was beginning to make an impact as former editor Andy Hobbs was about 15 months into his 7-year tenure of changing the dialogue of the newsroom. Up until that point, the Mirror wasn’t a great newspaper. That’s a tough sentence to write, but the reality was at that time we just didn’t have a good feel for the community or how it worked, and we ignored what the community was asking of us.
My mission was to change that. Call me a simpleton – I was called a lot worse than that over the years – but my mission was very simple: to be compelling and local. It had to be both to qualify as a news story in the Mirror.
To this end, this created a more compelling newspaper that the community wanted to read. This meant that articles had to be clear and concise, and columnists had to take stances, like Bob Roegner, Amy Johnson, the late Walter Backstrom and the irascible Mr. Federal Way.
It also meant that the business side of the house had to have its affairs in order. This included a business model that was profitable. Without this, I always argued that the Mirror could be betrothed to parties that had financial influence. This is simply not acceptable. To give the newsroom the power to write that tough article about City Hall, the school district, a major community based business or anything else was of paramount concern.
This was only possible if the paper was in a financial position to risk losing advertising revenue because of a contentiously viewed article that the community had a right to know about and the paper had to publish as one of its core competencies.
Believe me, being a publisher of a newspaper is an odd position for a career choice. Where else can you work where your direct reports write a scathing article about City Hall, then you turn around to that same municipality and have them pay you for running advertisements or a legal in your paper that they have to do as a matter of law because you are the newspaper of record? There’s no lessons one can take to learn these dancing moves.
Just when the newspaper was hitting its stride, this little thing called the Great Recession hit. As if newspapering isn’t hard enough, let’s go ahead and dry up small businesses, their advertising budgets and their staff hirings. The revenue model of a newspaper is based on a few things, but namely advertising. When “main street” struggles, then a community paper struggles because they are inextricably linked together.
In order to compensate for this while keeping in mind my prime directive to keep us profitable, I made the difficult decision to reduce our printing schedule to once a week on Dec. 31, 2011.
At the time, I was sure this was the beginning of the end for the Mirror, but this turned out to be the best decision possible. A Wednesday and Saturday publication date were not favorable to the news cycle or the advertising needs of the community. Moving it to a Friday publication solved both of these issues, and the readers could have cared less.
The content was just as compelling and easier to digest because they received it all at once. For any of the late breaking news, we posted these directly to the website and the Mirror’s online growth exploded.
Along the way, the Mirror grew as the community grew: a change of government from a city-council form to a strong mayor form; the widening of both directions of Pacific Highway; the introduction of legions of apartments; way too many murders; a misbehaving school superintendent with an exorbitant raise and a failed grading system; the reconstruction of several elementary schools and our signature named high school; the selling of the Weyerhaeuser property; and the completion of the Performing Arts and Event Center.
The growth of this paper wouldn’t have been possible without the staff and their commitment to the paper. I’d like to say they did it for me, but at the end of the day they did it because they took great pride in their jobs and wanted the Mirror to be a reflection of who they were. From Teryl Heller, Laurie Vincent, Mary Lou Goss, Kristi Chevalier and Jennifer Anderson at the front desk taking in all of the walk-in customers and listening to me ask for another revenue report, they made the office run.
A constant throughout my time at the Mirror in the creative department was the ever-talented Marcie Shannon and her counterparts, Odis Crosby, Dottie Garza and Brandon Carr. Editors that made me look good were Andy Hobbs, Carrie Rodriguez, Jason Ludwig and Jessica Keller. Without their leadership of the newsroom, I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on the financial side as much as I did, much to the chagrin of the stellar advertising representatives.
The advertising staff universally loved me and loathed me at the same time. I was always asking for more, lest the prime directive not be accomplished. Each one of them had their own talents and made the paper profitable because of it: Loray Rainwater, Diane King, Betsy Hoggarth, Hugh Hirata, Tamie Beitinger, Angela Webster, Theres’a Baumann, Karen Henry, Kay Miller, Linda Staples and Cindy Ducich.
The Mirror had a plethora of talented writers over the years: Jacinda Howard, Kyra Low, Casey Olsen, Beth Elliott, Neal McNamara, and Margo Hoffman were staples during the first few years. Next came Greg Allmain, Terrence Hill, Sarah Kehoe, Jerod Young and Raechel Dawson. The paper couldn’t have been delivered without the hundreds of carriers and the circulation managers of Vincent, Dawn Thomas, Eddie McClain and Michael Smith. Sadly, we also lost two members of the Mirror family with the untimely passing of Goss and McClain. They will forever be missed and their deaths haunt me to this day.
While I have left the Mirror to take a corporate position within Sound Publishing, my time is still spent mainly in Federal Way on various boards, at the Federal Way Farmer’s Market and at the local shops. While I don’t live here, I still consider Federal Way home. Lastly, all of this doesn’t exist without you, the readers.
Thank you for your continued readership, for your commitment to the community you live in and for your patronage of the businesses in the community. The Mirror exists because of a three-legged stool: its readers, its advertisers and its content. It can’t stand without all three legs.