Robert Burdick has only been the publisher of The Gazette for a couple of weeks, but he likes what he’s seen so far, and he seems ready for whatever challenges running El Paso County’s only major daily newspaper might present.
“I think any newspaper or any business should view itself as an entity that’s evolving,” Burdick said. “It doesn’t mean that things were done wrong before, it simply means that as markets and opportunities change, evolution is necessary.”
And while he said it’s too early to comment specifically about what changes there might be at the paper or how the Gazette will evolve, he does have a clear vision of what a daily newspaper should be.
“I think in very general terms you produce a newspaper that entices people, pulls their attention into it, whether for news or advertising or a combination,” he said. “You provide excellent customer service, so if there is a problem you can deal with it and if someone wants the paper, you can get it to them promptly and regularly at an agreed upon time and so forth.”
Enticing readers and grabbing people’s attention is no easy task, and Burdick sees competition everywhere.
“Everything is a competitor,” he said. “Whether it’s trying to get advertising money from the market or to compile or distribute news or other information in the market. It doesn’t matter whether its print, online broadcast or whatever. & Competition is everywhere.”
And the primary reason that the competition is so intense, he said, is time.
“Obviously the day is finite, 24 hours,” Burdick said. “Most of us sleep part of it, we do other things part of it, so we have a limited amount of time to look at what any distributor of news or advertising has to offer.”
Getting already overscheduled people to take time to read a newspaper isn’t just a challenge in Colorado Springs. Nationally, newspaper readership has been trending downward for several years. And while the circulation of the Gazette has fallen from its all-time high, Burdick is optimistic about the opportunity to regain readership.
One way to do that, he said, is to determine what the market wants and needs, and how best to fulfill both.
“It’s easier to say it than it is to do it,” Burdick said. “But you have to start by analyzing what’s out there and who’s not subscribing or buying the paper single copy and figuring out what it is that they want and then trying to determine in all of those wants where we are – and making sure they understand that we’re providing that and providing it well.”
But there aren’t, as he put it, any “magic bullets” to instantly increase circulation. “If there are I haven’t seen them, though I’ve heard people assert from time to time that they might have found one,” Burdick said. “I think solid and steady growth is very important.”
And while he has a healthy respect for the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News (which he was president and general manger of from 1998 to 2000), he doesn’t see either making any lasting inroads in the Colorado Springs area.
“I think it is very difficult for an out of town newspaper with out of town interests, controlled by people who are much more loyal to Denver than Colorado Springs to provide a good and relevant paper for the people of El Paso County,” Burdick said. “I think that they are interested in expanding their market & This is a population center, so it makes sense that they would try to make something of a push here. But they’re still Denver papers, not El Paso County papers.”
That tie in with the community is something that Burdick sees as one of the Gazette’s prime responsibilities.
“Part of the role of any good newspaper, and this is one, is to make sure that we identify and quantify as best we can challenges or problems in the community, because in order for them to be addressed, people have to know what they are first of all,” he said. “I think part of the role of a newspaper is to provide as best we can information from people who might have solutions to problems. And I think part of the role of a newspaper on the editorial or opinion side is to offer advice or commentary or insight about how things might be better along the way.”
Burdick also said that a newspaper should, as best it can, reflect the community as a whole and eliminate the appearance of hidden agendas.
“I think part of the role of a newspaper is to avoid cheap shots & (and) to avoid reliance on anonymous sources in almost every case,” he said. “It is to provide good and reasonable commentary when it’s properly labeled. The role of a good newspaper is to avoid being self indulgent, and any number of newspapers, particularly outside the metro daily realm, have fallen into self indulgence all too often.”
Helping to formulate a vision for what a community can and should be is one of the primary roles of a newspaper, Burdick said.
“It doesn’t mean a community can get there right away, but I’m not sure you can ever get there if you don’t have a vision for what you want to be and where you want to go,” he said. “I think that a newspaper has that responsibility in the community and I would hope that we would continue to move in that way.”
And a newspaper should be a good citizen, Burdick said.
“I define good citizen just like I define good neighbor or good spouse,” he said. “You have to be aware of problems and shortcomings in order to deal with them. And part of our role is to be aware of those and to deal with them. It certainly is not to pretend that they don’t exist.”
Within the media business, one problem that has and is likely to continue to face print publications is the advent of technology and the medium by which people prefer to receive their information. However, unlike many of the doomsayers, Burdick isn’t willing to accept the inevitable end of the printed word.
“The great predictions about the demise of newspapers, so far have not come to pass,” he said. “When radio came in newspapers were dead. When TV came in radio and newspapers were dead. None of that has come to pass. Radio is about as strong as it’s ever been. The three old-line broadcast networks are about as weak as they’ve been in a long time. Television is incredibly fragmented. The only mass medium left is general circulation newspapers. So we’ve kind of come back around in a circle.”
And as long as there is a demand for news and information, Burdick sees newspapers having a role in that supply chain.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see where it goes as successive generations on young people grow up – some of whom are incredibly conversant with computers and accustomed to getting information on computers,” he said. “But I think we’re well-positioned to continue &
“What we do is provide a service that’s necessary. We compile, sort and distribute information, whether it be news or advertising and I think that need will continue to exist. There may be a point, though I’m certainly not predicting it, at which instead of running long strips of paper through giant printing presses it’s distributed primarily in a different way, but I think that’s still down the road a piece.”