Evan Smith: Greater competition than ever. Scandals in your industry. Massive consolidation and budget cuts. Tell me why it’s a good time to be the editor of a daily newspaper.
Robert Rivard: Let me tell you about the readership part first. I’ve believed for years that you win or lose readers one at a time. You produce this enormously complex product that has a huge amount of data, and hardly anyone wants all of it, but everybody wants some of it, and they want their part done well. You have one reader saying, “If you take my comic strip out, I’ll cancel my subscription” and another saying, “If you write one more headline like that …” When someone says, “I’m going to cancel,” he’s really saying, “Pay attention to my concerns, validate my viewpoint, and tell me you’re listening.” It used to be that we’d get five letters to the editor every day, and nobody talked back to you. Now every story has the reporter’s e-mail address at the end of it.
ES: The volume of communication you get from readers is much greater because of technology?
RR: E-mail gets you into the corner office right away, and you’re in front of the person in charge. There’s no administrative assistant saying, “What is the nature of your call?”
ES: You read all of your own e-mails?
RR: I do. My assistant doesn’t even have access to my e-mail. And if I’m somewhere where I’ve been using my BlackBerry and really can’t handle all the e-mails with attachments and cc’s, I’ll apologize to readers and say, “Hey, I’m sorry. I was on the road.” Let’s take today’s paper, for example. The entire city is reading every word we’ve written about the federal government’s plans to close military bases; San Antonio came out very well this time in contrast to a decade ago, when we were devastated. So I had quite a bit of e-mail today on the subject, most of it very