SCHENECTADY — The Daily Gazette’s efforts to adapt itself to a changing media industry landscape have gained notice in a national newspaper trade publication.
The feature in “Editor & Publisher” last week — “10 News Publishers That Do It Right 2021” — was focused on the huge challenges posed to newspapers by the pandemic, which radically altered the business environment in many industries far beyond the news media.
Gazette President and Publisher John DeAugustine clarified that the recognition was for the newspaper, not him. But the initiatives cited by E&P have been a long-running effort by DeAugustine in his eight years with The Gazette.
Renting out unused portions of the 2-plus acres of floor space in the Maxon Road Extension headquarters, buying three smaller newspapers in Fulton and Montgomery counties, diversifying into separate but synergistic business lines and expanding contract printing were all designed to boost revenue and support the core mission of the company since 1894: community journalism.
They just happened to be hugely important as the pandemic hit.
“It’s really our strategy, adjusted for COVID,” DeAugustine said.
By contrast, many of the achievements noted by E&P at other newspapers were pivots in response to the pandemic.
The Gazette was not unscathed — it discontinued the Your Clifton Park & Halfmoon newspaper and laid off some personnel.
But it made those moves immediately, rather than wait until the pandemic forced the issue.
“We were looking at it and said, ‘This is going to be terrible,’” DeAugustine said, recalling discussions amid the gathering crisis in early March 2020.
“We were really able to save some costs across the board and that just helped us tremendously,” he added. “And it didn’t hurt our mission — the paper did an awesome job covering COVID and all the other things that were happening at that time.
“It enabled us to have a pretty good year in the face of that adversity.”
One move that proved fortuitous: Branching into parcel delivery.
At first glance, logistics seems unrelated to newspaper publishing, but it’s not terribly different from delivering papers to thousands of doorsteps every morning.
A new wholly owned subsidiary, Daily Gazette Logistics, began delivering FedEx packages in January 2020, shortly before e-commerce exploded, as Americans shopped from home instead of in person. Package shipments soared.
In December, FedEx reported its net income up 119% in 2020 over 2019. Daily Gazette Logistics, meanwhile, grew from 10 to 33 employees from January to December, though it has since subsided to around 25 after the holiday rush.
“We grew that business as a result of COVID,” DeAugustine said. “We leaned in and took in more. That was a real challenge because we were brand new in that space.”
Looking ahead, The Daily Gazette is anticipating a sharp rebound from the pandemic, DeAugustine said.
And just as it prepared for the pandemic before it really took hold, it’s preparing for the aftermath before the pandemic is over, with new personnel in the newsroom, advertising department and elsewhere.
“We’re hiring people now, before,” DeAugustine said, noting the three new reporters who’ve joined the paper in the past month.
“We are very bullish on what’s going to happen in the coming months. And we are building our core business because that core business is the reason we’re here.”