Two Cents Worth: We can only continue with your support

By Nick Miller

 I’d like to discuss a few changes we are making here at the Weekly, particularly to our website. 

As many of you know, we are a small operation with only three employees, a few freelance writers, and the occasional intern or two. The operation isn’t huge, but it does the best it can with the resources it has. Many times I feel like we are playing at a much higher level than such a small group would be expected to. 

With that said, we started uploading our stories to our website last year around July as a way to spread our work farther and, hopefully, gain more readers and subscribers. However, what we have learned, and should have figured from the start, is that when people are given something for free they tend to not pay for it as well. 

Starting today, there will be no more free news on OFallonWeekly.com. While some may argue that digital is the future and that we need to post news to our site, I argue that the work of my team has value and they deserve to be compensated for their efforts. My people can’t survive on gratitude alone and so I rely on the subscribers and advertisers to make up my budget and keep the doors open. 

With this change, you will see an increase in E-Blasts to convey breaking and urgent news. So if you haven’t signed up for our E-Blasts, visit OFallonWeekly.com and sign up. They will continue to be free, however we are tweaking the content within those as well. 

Please don’t misunderstand this change as the Weekly burying its head in the sand and abandoning digital. The simple fact is that we have done a lot of research and studying and determined that while the news can, and eventually will, move online, we will have an even harder time making the needed money to operate when based online. This makes revenue from print that much more important right now as we plan, develop, and roll out what the Weekly will be one, three, or five years from now. 

So if you value local journalism and news, support the Weekly with a subscription. Urge a local business to promote themselves through advertisements. We can only continue with your support and assistance. 

Two Cents Worth: Now entering our fifth year…

Well, here we are, with another year under our belt. 

The O’Fallon Weekly turns four and begins its fifth year of publication with this edition. 

I always like to take this specific column and do a bit of a State of the Weekly type of address. 

Things have changed a bit since last year when I wrote this. The staff at the Weekly continues to evolve. That even includes this week when we brought on a new reporter, Sally, to cover Lebanon. You will get to know Sally in the coming weeks.

Readership of the Weekly continues to grow. Subscriptions are defying national trends and increasing in number. While we do have some digital subscribers, most are print readers.

We did have to unfortunately do away with our military subscription rate last year. Cost increases from printing to postage hit us hard and caused that subscription level to actually lose us money. No business can survive doing that for long, no matter what.

One thing I’m personally excited about is that the Weekly is now being read by Mind’s Eye radio, which reads local newspapers so folks with visual impairments can get their news. I met the folks from Mind’s Eye at a Chamber of Commerce after hours event and they asked to include our paper in their lineup. Who was I to say no?

In terms of content, I am never satisfied with everything we have in the Weekly and feel it can always improve. That’s no slight against my writers as they do a great job, more just an observation that there is so much happening in this area that needs attention given to it. For example, we’ve relied on parents to send in sports coverage during this school year. While some teams have very active and involved parents that send me a number of photos and great articles, other teams I don’t hear anything from at all. We’ve been without a dedicated sports reporter since last year when Sam left for Ohio. So I’d like to get sports a bit more under control.

Going forward, there are a few projects we plan on rolling out that I am excited about.

If you haven’t already signed up for our Friday E-Blast, do so at our website, OFallonWeekly.com. Its a free newsletter where we share news and information. 

We’re looking to expand the E-Blast to possibly a second day and expand the content within it. For example, we often run obituaries in the paper after the services have taken place. We’re looking to add obituaries to the E-Blasts so folks can learn if a person they knew has passed away sooner and can plan on attending the services if they so choose.

We’re also looking to expand and do more video content in the coming weeks and months. A former OTHS student and videographer reached out and wants to gain experience and will be joining the Weekly very soon. 

Finally, I’d like to approach a very sensitive subject, and that is advertising. I’ve attempted to write the following thoughts a number of times but I never go forward with publishing them because I feel like I’m whining. However, recent events have brought this back to the forefront of my mind.

We have a number of advertisers that have been rock solid and very loyal to the Weekly. I can only hope with all of my heart that my readers have been equally as loyal and good to them, as their marketing dollars are what allow us to bring you the paper each and every week.

However, as time goes on, that advertiser pool needs to increase in size. My sales rep, Colleen, has been going out in the community and speaking with business owners. She reports to me that a number of businesses are doing their advertising online or elsewhere. While I can respect that, I’d humbly like to point out that we have a great local audience that appreciates our product and those that help us bring them our product.

While so many shops and businesses around O’Fallon and Shiloh remind you to shop local and shop small, I’d humbly ask they consider doing the same as the Weekly is a local business just like theirs. I employ all local folks who spend their dollars in town at other local businesses. I impress upon them the importance of doing business with those that do business with us, because that’s really important to me. 

When ad dollars are spent online and in corporately owned publications, they are flying away, out of the local economy and into California. 

I’m obviously not asking to be the sole source of advertising for a local business. As in a lot of things, diversity is key. However, I just ask that consideration is given to advertising with the Weekly by some local  businesses. We offer a great product that people tell me they enjoy reading. 

Our cheapest ad is within our Friday E-Blast. That $25 ad goes a long way in my meager budget and won’t break any marketing budget. I encourage local businesses to give us a try and let us try and help you promote your business.

All in all, things do look like they are headed in the right direction at the Weekly. We’re operating very lean and trying our best to be everywhere and cover everything as best we can. We appreciate all of the help we receive through news tips, story and photo submissions, and more.

Four years ago I had a dream of a community newspaper for O’Fallon that brought folks what they wanted to read. While there are miles to go before I sleep, I do feel like each year we get closer and closer to the goal. 

Thank you for four years and I look forward to spending year five with you. 

The minimum wage increase dooms small businesses

Well, it has started and is taking place quicker than even I imagined. Last week the Senate introduced and passed legislation increasing the state minimum wage to $15 from its current $8.25. The bill now sits in the House of Representatives, where it will be called by Speaker Madigan and inevitably passed by the Democrat super majority. The goal is to have it done before Governor Prtizker gives his budget address later this month so he has something to tout as an accomplishment.

And what an accomplishment!

Through this one piece of legislation Pritzker and the Democrat super majority will wipe out a number of small businesses in Illinois and keep businesses from wanting to locate in Illinois. I can tell you that I have been running the numbers as it relates to the O’Fallon Weekly and its not been pretty.

Currently, I have two employees and the following math is based on just those two employees. Neither are paid the minimum wage, but they’re not making much above it. 

Beginning in January 2020, minimum wage increases $1 to $9.25. Then on July 1, 2020, it increases to $10. This is a $1.75 increase in one year. 

From there, the rate increases $1 per year until 2025 when it finally maxes out at $15 per hour. 

The first year doesn’t kill the Weekly. Under this structure, it will cost me an additional $1,300 in wages. 

NOTE: None of this math takes into account increased payroll taxes. That’s something I need to speak with my accountant about.

Year two, when the rate goes to $11 per hour is when things get fun. That’s when I now need to find an additional $3,494 to cover my two employees versus today. Mind you, this means I can have no staff growth or find a way to pay myself anything yet.

By year three, my payroll expenses for two employees has jumped by $6,874.

Year four adds $10,254 to my bottom line expenses.

Year five will bring me an increase of $13,634.

Finally, by year six, 2025, my payroll will have increased by $17,014. I essentially need to find the cash in my current, meager budget to pay for another part time employee. Mind you, I can’t actually go and HIRE another part time employee. I just have to find money that I would have used to do so and give it to my current employees.

This doesn’t account for any other extra increased costs for goods that can be attributed to the need for my vendors to make more money so they can pay higher wages as well. This math is strictly payroll, and to think there won’t be other increases to be dealt with is utter ignorance.  

The simple fact is that my budget cannot withstand this cash grab. Cash grab? Yup. This is a tax increase in disguise.

Think about it… who wins when wages go up? The worker? NO! Prices of goods will increase accordingly to accommodate the inflated salaries and wages. 

The only people who win when the minimum wage increases are the unions and the state government. Many unions base their wages or cost of living increases in contracts as a percentage above minimum wage. 

And the state government? Oh, they’re going to rake in so many more payroll tax dollars. And don’t think for a second you won’t see a corresponding income tax increase to go along with this wage increase. Pritzker already has been setting the table for that announcing that the budget deficit is higher than former-Governor Rauner reported. They’re itching to take hold of those newly increased wages they’ve so generously given you.

So what can be done? At this point, I fear very little. It’s pretty obvious this is going to pass and we’ll have to deal with it. I now have to figure out how to squeeze more blood out of a rock in order to keep what I’ve got and maybe someday expand. And maybe even one day pay myself what will probably amount to less than minimum wage, but I’m just a big greedy business owner.

Thanks Springfield…

Illinois and St. Clair County need a two party system

I’m going to talk politics here, so if you aren’t interested in reading any more about the election, you may want to skip my column this week. But some things need to be said.

Another election is in the books in Illinois and St. Clair County and once again we find ourselves under oneparty rule. While some may argue that its ok because they align themselves with the party in power, in many cases a balanced government ultimately results in a better deal for the taxpayers.

Take a look at the state of our state. We have some of the highest taxes in the nation and have experienced a massive exodus of residents over the past 10 to 15 years resulting in a higher tax burden being laid at the doorstep of the folks unable or unwilling to leave for greener pastures. And what do we as an electorate do when given the opportunity to change course? We enthusiastically vote in the same politicians that raise our taxes time and time again.

The same can be said for St. Clair County. It is completely ruled by one party who finds ways to increase taxes and then turn around and somehow try and convince the people that they really cut them by promoting levy abatements. But I suppose that airport won’t pay for itself…

Now I could be upset at the Democrat Party for winning. But instead I’m choosing to reflect on the current state of the Illinois and St. Clair County Republican Parties and how ineffective both are at giving the voters a viable option on Election Day.

At the state level, it was obvious Governor Bruce Rauner was running head first into a buzzsaw. While he did try to hold the line and fight many of the efforts by Speaker Madigan to push Illinois further downward, he also caved more than a few times, demoralizing his base and giving the opposition fuel in their fight against him.

I believe there was one big straw that broke the camel’s back and that was when Rauner finally got a budget through, but it included a tax increase. Rather than negotiate for something in exchange for the tax increase, such as workers compensation reform, fair mapping legislation, or term limits, he caved and got nothing. Ineffective. Governor Prtizker was a foregone conclusion months ago.

Taking a step outward, the state party is horrible at recruiting and assisting viable candidates for state representative and state senate races. In many cases, it seems that desperate times call for desperate measures and any warm body can be propped up to run. Promises are made to these candidates to fund them with all the money and staff they’ll need, but that assistance only sometimes actually comes through. I can name a number of candidates that were convinced they would have what they need when they started circulating petitions to find themselves with barely a pittance of what they expected three months out from Election Day when the rubber has hit the road.

Locally, the situation is even more dire. 

The St. Clair County Republican Party seems to be as disorganized of a political party that it could be. Fundraising efforts are poor at best, especially when compared to the well-oiled machine in Belleville funded by trial attorneys, unions, and patronage jobs. County candidates receive little, if any, financial support and the party has very few volunteers able and willing to assist candidates with door-to-door campaigning and other efforts. This poor organization is unfair to the men and women who put their names on the ballot and pick up the Republican Party banner as candidates.

Additionally, candidate recruitment is a major problem. I was enthusiastic when Nick Gailius threw his hat in the ring this year for sheriff, if for no other reason than he was highly qualified for the job. While he managed to do the best he could, and raised a decent amount of money to get his message out, none of the other countywide candidates even compared. If you weren’t actively seeking these candidates out, you never knew their names until you were staring at them on your ballot.

Additionally, the local GOP is fractured into many sub-groups and efforts aren’t nearly as coordinated as they need to be. Competing interests interfere with a cohesive message and the effort comes to a halt.

The unfortunate truth of the matter is that until the Illinois and St. Clair County Republican Parties can figure out how to properly operate, both the state and county will remain locked tight under one-party rule. We can blame voter turnout, money disparities, and vote fraud all we want, but other states and counties have found ways to counteract those problems and come out ahead.

A good example is our neighbor to the north, Madison County. Once a democrat controlled stronghold like St. Clair, Madison is now much more balanced, electing members of both parties. My friend Chris Slusser won a hotly contested race to become the Madison County treasurer Tuesday evening. He was appointed in 2016 to the position after the incumbent became the County Board chairman and Chris stepped up and performed great work. I fully expect he will continue to do a good job on behalf of his constituents. 

The Madison County Republican Party once faced most of the same problems as St. Clair County, with the exception of an East St. Louis Election Board that has long outlived its usefulness, and they managed to become relevant. Why can’t the St. Clair County GOP do the same?

Mid-term elections typically aren’t ones where the St. Clair County GOP loses ground. At best they gain a bit, but at worst they hold steady. This year they lost seats and gained nothing. If that isn’t a giant wake up call to party leadership, I don’t know what could be. We can only hope that some solid reflection and assessments are made in the coming few months.

This column is not designed to bash on the Democrats. They ran good races and did what they needed to do to win. I congratulate all of the newly elected and re-elected candidates and wish them well. 

However, this is my very direct way of expressing my disappointment with the two-party system in Illinois and St. Clair County and my way of asking when they will finally get their head into the game and start truly getting organized. There are a lot of people, including myself, that hope it is soon. 

The Weekly is moving (days)

A lot goes into crafting an issue of the Weekly. There’s a lot of organization, time spent away from family and friends, and dedication to getting the work done on time.

One major issue my staff and I have faced since the beginning has been that most government meetings take place on Monday evenings. That presents a major issue for me since Mondays have been our production days since we launched, where I strap myself into my chair and don’t leave until I have the paper laid out.

I’ve talked about the layout process before, how it takes me all day, and often until very early the next morning, to get the paper done. Adding having to write a government meeting story to the mix just delays things further, and I’m not as young as I used to be.

In the past we have shifted our production back a day to Tuesday when Monday is a holiday. This means your paper arrives on Thursday instead of Wednesday. 

I’ve always been led to believe that I didn’t have the option to do that shift permanently at my printer, but last week he informed me that I was wrong and that we could make the switch whenever I wanted.

I have made the switch and the Weekly will now be arriving to you on Thursdays instead of Wednesdays.

This small change allows us so much more flexibility.

First, now production can be spread out over two days (Monday and Tuesday), allowing me the ability to go home and get some sleep at a normal hour.

Second, it will allows us to follow up with questions on Tuesday about things that took place at Monday night government meetings. Additionally, it will allow us to circle back to get information about a meeting we were perhaps unable to attend due to manpower shortages. We are a small staff and we’re trying to be a lot of places at one time.

Third, we can now start to include District 90 Board of Education meetings in a more timely manner. They fall on a Tuesday and so they’re always eight days old by the time they hit the paper. 

Fourth, it gives me my Sundays back. When production was on Monday, I would come to the office on Sunday and work, leaving my family and friends.

Finally, it makes life simpler in that we won’t have to push back for Monday holidays. Now the only holiday we have to consider is Thanksgiving, but we will push up that one week. Ironic, huh? 

Honestly, its a small change for you the reader that will make big improvements for us here at the Weekly.

Regarding submission deadlines, for the time being, we’d like to keep them pretty much the same. However, we obviously have some flexibility. Those deadlines can be found in the information box on page two.

The only change this will have on me in a negative capacity is that I will have to start driving to pick up my papers at the printer, an hour away, again. I had been having them trucked to Troy. But its a small price to pay and I actually enjoy the time in the car after a long week to sit and relax.

We hope you understand why this change ultimately needed to occur and how it will hopefully make the Weekly a better paper.