Not all of the many changes to our daily routines, work, school, forms of communication and personal frustrations can be blamed on the coronavirus pandemic. And, not all of the disruptions and changes are temporary. Not everything will be returning to “normal” after everyone has finally been vaccinated.
Here at our local news organization — we used to call ourselves a newspaper — we are going through many permanent changes, which all started rolling out in front of us well before the pandemic struck. To emphasize this point, very soon we will be known by a new name. Our old names including The Healdsburg Tribune, The Windsor Times, Cloverdale Reveille and Sonoma West Times & News will refer only backwards to our 156 years of producing weekly newspapers and local journalism. (The print version of The Healdsburg Tribune will keep its name.) Going forward, our corporate name of Sonoma West Publishers will be replaced by our new nonprofit corporation, Sonoma County Local News Initiative.
But, that’s not the new name we are talking about. As soon as May, there will be a new name at the top of our website, daily e-newsletters, letterhead, billings and other communications. We hope you are eager to know what our new name will be — and so are we. We’ve been struggling a little to come up with the title or “flag” that best describes who we are and what we do. So far, we have several names we are trying out. But we have no winner or announcement to make here.
To be clear, our local news mission, current staffing and weekly operations are not changing beyond what you’re already seeing as we transform from a “legacy” group of printed newspapers into a daily digital and multi-media news organization. It’s true the COVID-19 pandemic has hastened this conversion from print-only to a multi-channel digital news organization that also convenes live events and town hall meetings. Newspapers everywhere have been undergoing radical and historical changes for several years.
“In newspapers, it is news that is more important than the paper,” recently said New York Times publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. A few years ago, the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA), an organization with almost 800 news organizations including us, changed its name to California News Publishers Association. As thousands of newspapers keep dying these days across America, many are being replaced by nonprofit, digital startups. (We are one of very few “legacy” outfits that are “pivoting” and transforming into the all-digital future.)
The Sonoma County Local News Initiative, led by Nancy Dobbs and a community-based board of directors, will direct our forward-looking mission and new business model to sustain local journalism, encourage civic engagement and expand media literacy across the communities of Cloverdale, Healdsburg, Windsor, Sebastopol and west county.
Sonoma West Publishers was founded in 1995 and published a single newspaper, Sonoma West Times & News until 2000 when we added The Healdsburg Tribune and The Windsor Times. We added the Cloverdale Reveille in 2013. While three of our four newspapers have been located in the north county, we never got around to changing our name. Now we must.
We need a new name that says “news,” “community,” “local,” “unbiased,” “a leader,” “transparent,” “public” and “essential.” Old newspaper names like Tribune, Observer, Inquirer, Times, Dispatch or Bulletin just don’t seem to fit the times and challenges ahead. Because we are strictly focused on local news, our new name should somehow not only say who we are, but where we are. This isn’t easy. “The Russian River Watershed Reveille Tribune Times & News” is too long for a website or news page. There was once a Russian River Flag newspaper (1870), published in Healdsburg. When some folks started a little paper in Guerneville in 1979, they christened it “The Paper.” The title “The News” is probably taken, but a new title like “Community News” says exactly what we do.
Thank goodness we have a deadline, or we might never resolve this naming game. Suggestions?