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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Albuquerque Journal traces its history to 1880, so it stands to reason the newspaper has made some significant announcements over the past 140 years.
You could start with the move in 1882 from Old Town to “new” town near the railroad, up through the evolution of its name from the Albuquerque Journal-Democrat to the Albuquerque Journal in 1925 with the adoption of an independent editorial policy followed to this day. There was the move in 1982 from Downtown to a new $40 million plant in Journal Center industrial and office park, the award of a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 and a series of product innovations, including Business Outlook, right up through the debut of entertainment/TV tab VP last week. Etc.
But none was more important to the long-term viability of the Albuquerque Journal and the local journalism that sustains both its print edition and digital products than the announcement last week that the Journal and The Santa Fe New Mexican had entered into a strategic alliance to print both publications at The New Mexican’s printing plant in Santa Fe beginning Oct. 12.
First, it’s worth noting that both newspapers – the two largest in New Mexico – are family-owned. That’s rare in today’s world of corporate/hedge fund ownership. The Journal’s home office, headquarters if you will, isn’t in a big city out of state. It’s right across the hall and upstairs from the newsroom, accessible to the community it serves.
And there it will remain. Our newsroom, publisher, advertising and circulation operations are staying at Journal Center, which has been home to the newspaper the past 38 years. Journal subscribers, readers and advertisers should see no difference. The only difference is that the paper itself will be printed on a different set of presses, which will result in crucial cost savings for the future of the Journal.
“We are proud of this arrangement, because it strengthens both family newspapers’ ability to report and print the news important to New Mexico,” Journal publisher William P. Lang said about the arrangement.
“It’s essential that the Journal maintain the strength and stability needed to report the local news, because that’s our mission,” Lang said. “We aren’t a big metro like Chicago or Phoenix. We’re really a large ‘community’ newspaper reporting local news.”
Lang said that the reduced overhead costs also “will allow us to be more attractive to our advertisers” and that “helping them succeed helps us succeed in our mission.”
It’s a mission that includes major investigative pieces and thorough coverage of law enforcement, sports, City Hall, education and the Roundhouse, as well as serving as a sounding board for public opinion.
It’s a mission we in the newsroom and throughout the plant embrace and are proud to be able to continue for our readers and advertisers.
Deep roots in NM
The Journal has been in the Lang family since 1926 and has always been innovative.
Bill Lang has been publisher since 2015 after serving as president and CEO since 2012. He succeeded his brother, T.H. Lang, and both Bill and Tom are the sons of C.T. Lang, who served as publisher until his death in 1971.
The “P.” in William P. Lang stands for Pepperday. Thomas M. Pepperday owned and published the Journal from 1926 until his death in 1956. During the Depression, Pepperday devised a consolidation plan that made newspaper history by joining the business and mechanical departments of the Journal and afternoon Albuquerque Tribune into one operating company. That arrangement – with independent and competing newsrooms – lasted until the Tribune was closed in 2008 by its owner, the E.W. Scripps Co.
It was an innovation that was picked up around the nation and kept the doors open for many newspapers.
The New Mexican has its own storied history, which it is better positioned to tell than we are. Robert McKinney acquired the newspaper in 1949 and later fought a fierce court battle with the Gannett Co. to keep local control. He was a fearless publisher and a gentleman. I am proud to have known him.
“My father counted Bill’s father, C.T. Lang, among his friends,” said Robin Martin, publisher of The New Mexican. “I am sure our fathers would be happy their children are working together to keep their publications family-owned and dedicated to their communities.”
And like the New Mexican, the Journal continues its deep roots in the community .
Bill Lang is chairman of the Albuquerque Community Foundation and on the board of the University of New Mexico Foundation. Most of the newsroom’s senior management team – Editor Karen Moses, Managing Editor Dan Herrera, Editorial Page Editor D’Val Westphal, Metro Editor Martin Salazar and Arts Editor Adrian Gomez – have degrees from the University of New Mexico. (So do I, from the law school.)
There is a personal stake for us all, as well as a professional one, in the newspaper and the community it serves.
For all its benefits, this business collaboration announced last week isn’t without pain, as up to 70 employees in the Journal’s production department face layoffs.
“Their work has been essential to the Journal over the years, and we are being as generous as we can with severance,” Lang said. “They are getting the first dollars from the savings of this arrangement. People with 22 or more years will stay on the payroll for six months. Several people who are close to the 25-year mark will get their Rolex watch – a Journal tradition. That might sound like nothing, but it means something if you’ve worked here.”
A number of the laid-off employees already are eligible for pension benefits, and some have the opportunity to take jobs at the New Mexican printing facility.
The Journal is a unique place to work, and hundreds of New Mexicans have built long-term careers here. In 2003, the Journal started the tradition of lining the cafeteria with portraits of people who have worked 25 years in various parts of the company – news, advertising, circulation, administration and production. As of today, more than 175 photos hang on the walls.
But advances in the industry over the years have meant fewer people were required to engage in a manufacturing process that started with wood pulp and ink and ended up with a package of words, photos and graphics delivered to your doorstep.
Those of us who have been around long enough remember the days when Linotype operators (my father was one) churned out type. Headlines were done by pushing molten lead into a device called a Ludlow. The type was inked up, transferred to plates and put on the press for that day’s run. At the end of the day, the type was cleaned up and melted down so the process could start all over for the next edition.
It was a labor-intensive process that has long since gone into the dust bin of history.
But just as that technology was replaced over the years, printing operations have been consolidated in many parts of the country. It made no economic sense for the Journal and New Mexican to have separate printing facilities 50 miles apart.
This was essential, Lang said, to sustainability now and for the next generation.
Still, it is painful to know that such an integral part of our identity as a newspaper is moving away. It is impossible not to enter the noisy pressroom around midnight while the presses are running without feeling a shot of adrenaline and pride to see the papers roll off the massive machines. Here at the Journal plant, we will miss that.
Print still special
Many people today prefer to get their news in digital form, but many still prefer print. Many do both, especially in recent months as the desire for news has increased during the frustrations of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns.
The Journal has aggressively worked on digital content over the years, from creating a robust website to digital replicas to breaking news alerts sent by email. ABQJournal.com had more than 1.6 million unique visitors in July – an increase of 500,000 over July 2019.
The Journal also provides a unique forum for public opinion and debate in its opinion section. The editorial page receives hundreds of letters and “Speak Ups” every month for its Op-ed pages, many more submissions than we can publish. So people are still reading, writing and participating in the democratic process. In print and online.
But even in a digital world there is something compelling about print and the indelible images on a page.
That’s been true since Johannes Gutenberg introduced printing to Europe in 1439 with the invention of movable type. His invention played a key role in the development of the Renaissance, Reformation, Age of Enlightenment and scientific revolution and laid the basis for a modern knowledge-based economy and the spread of learning to the masses.
We think that magic of the printed page still exists, even though we live in a world that has endless news channels and more news/social media outlets than any reasonable person can keep track of.
After the attacks of 9/11, the Journal published an “extra” that came out in the evening. Despite wall-to-wall TV coverage, a steady stream of cars filed in off Jefferson to get copies. General Manager Brian Fantl handed them out to people who drove up in the dark and rolled down their windows.
My guess is that would happen again today.
The agreement announced last week between the state’s two leading newspaper means that it still could.
Kent Walz is a former editor of the Silver City Daily Press and spent 12 years with The Associated Press before joining the Journal staff in 1984. He retired as editor in 2017 and now serves as senior editor.