The Succession Plan

field-notesEACH YEAR, AS I LAY OUT the pages of our Christmas edition, I usually find one particular letter to Santa Claus that catches my eye—one particularly clever, particularly charming, particularly sweet or touching letter, or simply one reminiscent of Christmases long past.

This year, it was this one, which I’ve excerpted here: “Dear Santa Claus, Are you getting old? If you are how are you going to bring Presents when you get older? Love, Octavio Pantoja”

Octavio is, in effect, wondering whether Santa Claus has pondered retirement, and wants to know whether he has a succession plan—pretty weighty stuff for a little boy to be thinking about, with the magical Christmas event approaching.
Octavio’s query has also provided the perfect opening for this year’s Christmas column.

I’ve recently heard similar musings about The Canadian Record and its future…and even a few rumors that we might be throwing in the proverbial towel. Perhaps it’s the gray in my hair or the hitch in my get-along that has inspired such conjecture. Perhaps word has gotten out that we’ve talked about selling the newspaper, while trying but failing to swallow the lump in our throats such thoughts always elicit.

But unlike the larger-than-life Santa Claus, my staff and I have begun to realize that we are—in fact—merely mortal and won’t be able to keep up the demanding pace of the weekly newspaper routine forever.

Every once in a while, we scratch our heads and try to figure out how long we’ve been doing this. Like Octavio, we begin to wonder how we’re going to keep delivering this “present” when we get older—and then we realize, older is what we have already become. Older still by the day, it seems.

As we file the final copy for our last edition of 2016, it seems as good a time as any to talk about what will happen when we just can’t load the sleigh for another middle-of-the-night, round-the-globe excursion, wondering as we do whether this is the fateful moment when we will disappoint some expectant reader and fail to deliver the goods.

I’ve wondered this quite a bit lately, as have my two faithful friends, coworkers and fellow-stockholders, Cathy Ricketts and Mary Smithee.

While I’ve worked on and off at The Record pretty much since God created dirt, I began my nearly-uninterrupted tenure on the staff here in December of 1981—just about 35 years ago. Though that may not seem like many years to some, it’s a little bit like dog years. When considering the long hours we work, the sheer number of names and events and meetings and facts and births and deaths and lifetime events we cover, the occasional dander we raise and the constant pressure we feel to get it all right, I’m guessing that one human year is roughly equivalent to about seven newspaper years—which makes me very old, indeed.

When The Record’s former editor and publisher—and my father—died nearly 24 years ago, and I sat down at his desk, what was already a death-defying pace, accelerated considerably. We newspaper people don’t age by the year, we age by the issue. Some weeks, we age by the minute. They don’t call it a deadline for nothing.

Cathy and Mary have been here with me for much of that 24 years, and while it’s been a joy to work with them, the joy may not always be mutual. They don’t call me “Wednesday Laurie” for nothing.

We are damn proud of the newspaper we produce each week, and damn relieved each week when it’s done. But the world is changing. The newspaper business is changing. And with each introduction of some new technology, some new wonder software that’s going to shave hours off our day, some new way of communicating to the public thorugh social media, and some new demand for instant and immediate news from that same public, we feel just a bit more overwhelmed.

The thing we fear most is failing.

We have begun succession planning. That’s nothing even remotely close to folding the newspaper, locking the doors and walking away—as the rumor some of you may have heard goes.

We have begun the search for someone with energy, integrity, insight, intelligence and curiosity—with a strong sense of responsibility to the reader, a deep respect for the written word, and the guts to defend both, week in and week out—who might be interested in eventually becoming the editor and publisher of The Canadian Record. If that someone has ties to Canadian and Hemphill County, even better. If that someone has some money behind them to invest in a business that has thrived in this community since 1893, better still.

We believe deeply in both the viability of independent newspapers, and the absolute necessity for their continued survival in a free, democratic society. We are not abandoning this legacy with which we’ve been entrusted, but hoping to breathe new life and longevity into it.

I’ll have more to write about this next year, but I’m officially opening the door to rampant speculation about the future of The Canadian Record, and hoping there’s someone out there thinking that it might be their future, too.

Merry Christmas, all. Be kind to each other.

 

P.S. Yes, David, there really is an Octavio Pantoja

dear-santa

 

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