By Joan Waclawski, Special Sections Editor
This year marks 25 years that The Business Monthly has been in the news business covering Howard and Anne Arundel counties. Becky Mangus talks about those years, in particular her last 15 as co-owner and publisher, and speculates on the future.
What first motivated you and your business partner Cathy Yost to buy the paper 15 years ago?
The original owner, Carole Pickett [now Hughes], was looking to retire or at least relinquish some of the day-to-day responsibilities. She asked me to be associate publisher. Even though I had had a marketing and graphic design firm for 16 years, I had always wanted to be a publisher. This seemed like the right opportunity. Cathy, who already was working with Carole as general manager, and I spoke and we decided to make an offer to buy the paper. A couple of months later, we owned a newspaper.
You would think two women past mid-life crisis would have known better, but we jumped right in and have been jumping ever since. It has been a great experience for both of us, however, and we really love the business community in this area.
How have the paper and the news climate changed over the past 25 years?
As with all types of businesses, things have changed dramatically. Certainly technology has had a major impact on the industry, but also the “great recession” has affected people’s marketing perspective.
People still want the news, but now there are a multitude of mediums from which to get it. So we have to try to be everywhere, so people can get their news the way they most prefer.
Of course, we can’t provide the news without selling ads. That is probably a larger challenge than keeping up with the various mediums. Publications still rely on advertising sales to stay in existence, for the most part. Over the past several years, larger newspapers have tried different approaches, including charging for online subscriptions. But so far, the revenue for subscriptions and online advertising cannot sustain a newspaper or magazine.
As a marketing professional, I still believe in diversified marketing unless you have a very specific target audience. So I believe that companies will continue to advertise with us, which allows us to exist another day. And, perhaps most importantly, it allows the Howard and Anne Arundel business community to continue to get important local news that really is hard to find anywhere else.
And, if you don’t mind, I want to say that my editorial team is probably the finest in the business, large or small. They are extremely professional and talented and each has many years of journalism experience. This community, and The Business Monthly, is fortunate to benefit from their abilities.
Your newspaper has a rather unique business model: Some of the articles actually are contributed, at no charge, by members of the business community. How do you encourage people to contribute articles? And doesn’t that open the paper up to a certain amount of editorializing by those contributors?
With a smaller newspaper, we actually get the best of both worlds. We have professionals, as mentioned above, that cover the hard news in the two local jurisdictions. But we also are able to have experts in their respective fields contribute articles as well — almost a magazine concept.
We are extremely careful that each contributed article is educational or informational and make it clear that self-promotion or opinions are not allowed. We either don’t publish the article or we edit out that content. We retain full editing rights on all submissions.
This gives us the opportunity to bring to the business community more business-related articles by upholding strict standards. As a matter of fact, one time, one of our largest advertisers submitted an article that I rejected. Cathy, who handles advertising sales, just about throttled me. But there were a couple of factual errors, and once we got those worked out, the article was accepted.
We also welcome and rely on press releases or even just a few paragraphs to let us know about news within a company or organization. Each month we print pages of those short news pieces that include promotions, new hires, awards, upcoming events, etc. And, we are told, those pages are well-read so people can keep track of what is happening in the local area. I had one person tell me that written into her job description was reading The Business Monthly and disseminating the information throughout the company.
How’s readership, considering that newspapers in general are on the decline?
According to surveys and word on the street, we are extremely well-read. After all, not only do we provide a quality publication, she said humbly, but there aren’t a lot of other places to find the information we make available.
In addition, the statistics that newspapers are on the decline refer to the larger, mainstream publications where people can get the same information anywhere, including on their phone. Niche newspapers and publications actually are doing well because you can’t find the same information everywhere. So there is an actual need for us. Unfortunately, when people hear that newspapers are on the decline, that nobody reads newspapers, only social media, they believe it. Statistics are saying otherwise.
But, we are also making sure we are available to all readers — in newsprint, online on our website, and we even have an app where people can read the paper via their phones.
Where do you see The Business Monthly headed over the next five years?
We will continue to be relevant and hope to stay up with the readership curve, whatever that might be. The biggest struggle, as I mentioned, is being sure we have enough revenue to keep the news coming. As such, we will continue to find topics and opportunities that are of interest to the business community. Last year we had a 12-part series on Columbia at 50 and sold sponsorships. Then we published a magazine celebrating Columbia’s birthday. We will continue to stay open to opportunities that make sense so that our main purpose, providing local news, will continue to be possible well past Cathy’s and my ownership.
Our goal is for The Business Monthly to continue to be a mainstay in the community.