Gazette publisher reflects on period of rapid change, looks to the future

An interview with John DeAugustine
John DeAugustine
John DeAugustine

SCHENECTADY — When The Daily Gazette marked its 100th anniversary of first publishing, in 1994, few could have predicted the business and technological changes the company would experience in the next quarter-century.

Now, at the 125th anniversary, predicting details of the future is just as hard. But the larger picture is easy to foretell, said Publisher John DeAugustine: The Gazette will remain a source of quality journalism for the Capital Region.

The Pittsburgh-area native joined The Gazette as publisher in 2013, amid sweeping changes underway industrywide and at The Gazette, most notably a decline in circulation and advertising. With the staff functioning more quickly and efficiently through recently improved technology, DeAugustine set about reconfiguring the newspaper’s large headquarters on Maxon Road Extension, finding tenants to occupy unused space the company was paying to heat, light and maintain.

The Gazette building now has six tenants and is in discussion with two prospective tenants.

“You have to think more broadly about revenue base than six to 10 years ago,” DeAugustine said.

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During his tenure, the company has also greatly increased its contract printing business; moved into events promotion; and most recently, become host to a sign-printing franchise purchased by the owners of the newspaper company.

“It’s the continued pressure on our industry,” DeAugustine said, a continual challenge to ramp up new sources of revenue as older sources decline.

“For us, that’s been pretty successful,” he added.

The technological advances that have pressured traditional print media in the past two decades are a double-edged sword, DeAugustine said: As digital technology cuts into circulation and advertising revenue, reducing the money available for newsroom payroll, it also makes each member of the smaller news team able to do much more.

“That gets to the efficiency side of it,” he said. “I would tell you that we make such a bigger impact on our communities today than ever. Last month 1 million unique users hit our website. A million! There’s not even a million people in the Capital Region.”

DeAugustine has been in newspapers for the last 31 of his 50 years. So while he missed the transition from typewriters to word processors by a decade or so, he was there when the corps of paste-up men (and they were all men) gave way to a handful of desktop publishing operators, when reporters got desktop internet and email access, and when the entire world became accessible with a tap or a swipe on a phone screen.

“Now, information’s at our fingertips, but the challenge is it’s so voluminous,” he said.

Longtime readers and area residents will have noticed that The Gazette no longer has a network of bureaus in six counties and an army of reporters sitting in at government meetings in multiple communities on any given evening.

Much thought was put into this transition, DeAugustine said, determining what readers wanted and needed and deciding how best to provide it. As the bureaus were being closed in the mid-2000s, Gazette reporters and photographers were gaining better email, internet and digital transmission capabilities. This increased each newsperson’s geographic reach and decreased the need to sit through a three-hour meeting to secure a news story.

In essence, DeAugustine said, the issue became: “How do I take Pete DeMola or John Cropley or Zach Matson and make them more efficient instead of going to a meeting?”

Any member of the public can sit in on a public meeting, provided the officials running it obey the state’s Open Meeting Law. What’s more difficult is boiling down the issues and context at the meeting and behind the meeting, especially when the members of the board running the meeting have hashed things out among themselves beforehand.

Despite all these digital advances, The Gazette will continue to publish a print edition, likely for decades to come.

“We don’t try to force the market, we serve the community,” DeAugustine said. “As long as our subscribers want that print newspaper, I’m going to be there for them. I don’t see that changing in the near future.”

He added that the actual number of newspapers printed each day “is going to go down because technology is going to continue to improve. Why would we think our industry is any different?”

The company prints nearly 30,000 copies a day of The Daily Gazette and a combined 40,000 copies a week of its Your Niskayuna and Your Clifton Park & Halfmoon weekly newspapers. The digital versions of the same news and advertising zipping weightlessly through the Internet have the same or greater impact as all those tons of newsprint, DeAugustine said, because it lasts beyond the day and is readable beyond the hands of the person holding it.

“Now a story is used again and again, it’s so much more powerful. And now we’re able to do it for less money, thank God, because Google is sucking up all the advertising revenue.”

Ironically, amid all the challenges and pressures of the new digital world, one of the most disruptive developments during DeAugustine’s tenure at The Gazette had been old-fashioned political buffoonery — professional and volunteer cheerleaders seeking to discredit an entire industry to mislead or distract the public from what their guy is doing in office.

It is, he said, “the 300-pound gorilla in the room — tremendous pressure on the journalism field about ‘fake news.’

“We hear this every day,” DeAugustine said. “I’m proud to say at The Daily Gazette we don’t have an issue with it. There’s no bias in our reporting.”

A local newspaper is so close to the community it serves that any factual fabrication is readily apparent. 

However, different perspectives are not different facts — a particular report is not fake news because it includes perspectives someone may not agree with, DeAugustine said.

“Everybody has a different perspective of an event. We do our very best to present those perspectives in a way that truly represents what happened.”

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That remains the focus of The Daily Gazette, and the core of what it does.

“The heart of our mission is serving the communities we cover,” DeAugustine said.
“We get to do all kinds of great things like start a sign business or get into the real estate business. But it all goes back to the reporting and the journalism. We are committed as an entity from the fifth-generation ownership straight through to the carriers to everyone else in the organization. We all know what our mission is and it’s centered on journalism. 

“There’s a lot of companies that don’t take that long view and aren’t doing everything they can to be around for the next 125 years, that aren’t rallying around such a noble mission as we have.

“That is exciting to me, it energizes me, that makes me want to do this all the more.”

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