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CALLS IT QUITS
Paper Sold In
Assets Only Sale
Sky Valley Chronicle Exclusive
December 30, 2009
(MONROE, WA) -- In a not totally unexpected announcement in local publishing and newspaper circles the Monroe Monitor, a small weekly only paper in Monroe that has struggled with low circulation and declining ad revenue in recent years, has been sold by publisher Ken Robinson and his Robinson Newspapers group, a family owned company, to Washington Legal Journal in an assets only sale.
Monroe Monitor newspaper has been sold after 19 years ownership by Robinson Newspaper group.
The Washington Legal Journal publishes foreclosure industry news and information, including full text “Trustee Sale Notices”, throughout the Puget Sound area.
Published weekly, WLJ specializes in news about the real estate law, foreclosure practice, and loan servicing. Together with its sister publication, Oregon Legal Journal, the WLJ reaches the broad segment of the foreclosure investor community throughout the Northwest with separate editions for King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties.
Robinson published news of the sale, with no byline, in a short four paragraph item on page 2 of the paper’s December 29, 2009 edition.
Neither the paper’s sole reporter/editor Polly Keary nor publisher Robinson penned an editorial or accompanying story to illuminate for readers the reasons behind the sale, but the article stated “there are no staff changes planned as a result of the sale.”
However a spokesman for the Washington Legal Journal could not be reached for comment in time for this article’s deadline so it is not known at present if WLJ plans to retain only the assets of the business and close down the Monroe Monitor or continue to publish the paper on a weekly basis.
The article notes that under a management agreement the “accounting functions” of the Monitor would be handled by Pacific Publishing Company of Seattle.
Pacific Publishing runs a number of community newspapers such as the Capitol Hill Times, Queene Anne & Magnolia News and the South Seattle Beacon.
As of Tuesday the name Monroe Monitor was listed on the publishing company’s web site along with the firm’s other weekly papers.
The Monroe Monitor is one of the oldest newspapers in the Sky Valley, published continuously since 1899. The Robinson family, as the Robinson Newspapers group, has run the paper only since 1990.
MONITOR HAD TRIED TO DIVERSIFY TO REMAIN VIABLE IN MARKETPLACE
In May 2007 Monitor publisher Ken Robinson was busy attempting to put together a group of people to publish a new Sky Valley “lifestyle” type publication in order to bring in new ad revenues and ad revenues the Monitor was losing to others, according to a source familiar with the effort.
The source tells the Sky Valley Chronicle that Robinson was concerned that other media players in the market were “eating away” at his paper's market share and revenue and he felt he had to have some sort of new, more modern product to keep the ad revenue from slowly draining away to other media options.
Robinson told the group he envisioned a lifestyle publication that was generally more exciting, edgier and more relevant than the Monitor and that appealed to a younger demographic than the Monroe Monitor was able to generate.
Later that vision changed to a more pedestrian ad coupon circular with limited editorial content.
According to our source, Robinson held a number of meetings with the group through the early summer of 2007 but nothing came of the project and the sister publication was never launched.
At one point Robinson attempted to persuade other family members in the Robinson newspaper group to join with him in underwriting the new publishing venture but they declined, according to our source.
It is unknown what the print circulation run has been recently of the Monitor because the paper’s circulation is not audited by an outside newspaper auditing bureau but it generally is believed to be something around or less than 3,000 copies perhaps even in the low 2,000 range.
OLD STYLE PRINT PAPERS HAVE BEEN UNDER CONSTANT ATTACK
Newspapers across the U.S. have been bleeding red ink for years and have been firing staffs and closing up even major dailies, as in the case recently of the Seattle Post Intelligencer, as readers switch to Internet sources (like the Sky Valley Chronicle you are now reading) where advertisers pay much lower rates and in many cases get greater exposure than in print vehicles.
The salad days of print – in newspapers, direct mail and magazines – were 25 years ago.
Newsroom employment in America dropped 11 percent last year to 46,700 jobs -- a level that has not been seen since 1979.
Meantime print newspaper circulation fell 7.1 percent in the six months ending March 31st of this year. Nine of the 10 biggest papers in the U.S. were still losing readers that month.
Industry analysts say the problem is that the newspaper industry saw it’s revenue model rapidly crumble before it’s eyes without having the time to readjust that revenue model to account for new technology and changing readership tastes.
Back in the days when a blacksmith saw the gradual change of transportation from horses to the automobile he or she had many years to go through that transition and be ready for the day where there were no more livery stables. But in today’s warp-speed age of high technology a 200-year-old industry can be turned upside down in a decade.
IN RECENT PAST BOTH THE MONITOR & KEN ROBINSON BECAME SUBJECTS OF NEWS STORIES
In 2008 the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission ruled the Monroe Monitor, and the paper’s publisher Ken Robinson, violated state law in a long-standing Election 2007 campaign complaint.
Former Monroe City Council member Chad Minnick filed the complaint in 2007.
The presiding PDC officer in the case found the Monitor, and publisher Ken Robinson acting as a “commercial advertiser,” violated the law (RCW 42.17.110) on one occasion by failing to timely make its records available for open public inspection for political advertising.
Mr. Robinson provided the advertising noted in the Minnick complaint to Monroe City Council candidate Margie Rodriguez in October of 2007 as an “in kind” contribution.
The in-kind contribution refers to the fact Robinson the publisher, acting as a commercial advertiser in his own newspaper, donated the equivalent of $1,000 value in advertising space in the Monroe Monitor to Minnick’s election opponent, Ms. Rodriguez, during the election campaign for Minnick’s council position.
The PDC found the Monitor's employees had not made the records available to Mr. Minnick or his campaign aids until two full weeks (14 days) after the first records request was made. Mr. Minnick was not given access to the records until November 5, 2007 according to the PDC, one day before the 2007 general election. Ms. Rodriguez went on to win the election and Mr. Minnick lost his council seat.
The PDC also found the “compiled record” of the advertising in question consisted of information that was “already in existence” regarding Robinson’s donated political ad space in support of the Rodriguez campaign, and that copies of those records were available “on the counter” of the Monitor’s offices in downtown Monroe.
The PDC disposition report does not make clear why Mr. Minnick was not granted access to the records until one day before the election if they were available at the front counter of the newspaper, when Minnick claims he and a campaign aide requested to see the records no less than four times between October 19, 2007 and October 24, 2007.
The PDC dismissed one charge against Robinson and the Monroe Monitor, a charge by Minnick that the two were guilty of attempting to conceal the Rodriquez advertising donation by Mr. Robinson in violation of state law.
PENALTY FOR VIOLATION
In lieu of a civil penalty against the Monroe Monitor the presiding officer in the PDC case accepted a proposal by the Monroe Monitor to organize a training session to be coordinated with the PDC staff and members of the Washington Newspaper Publisher’s Association regarding requirements for commercial advertisers under RCW 42.17.110.
The PDC received Mr. Minnick's complaint January 23, 2008 and issued the results of its findings that the Monroe Monitor and publisher Ken Robinson had violated the law in a state document dated May 23, 2008.
MONITOR LATE IN PUBLISHING PDC FINDINGS
The Monroe Monitor, as far as is known, did not publish the story of its own PDC investigation results until the paper’s July 8, 2008 edition -- a full forty-six days after the date the PDC’s enforcement against the Monroe Monitor was published in a state document titled “Results of Brief Enforcement Hearings – May 23, 2008.”
That May 23rd PDC document declares the investigation into the Minnick complaint “completed” and goes on to describe the violation of law and the assessed penalty against the Monroe Monitor.
MINNICK CHIDED MONITOR FOR DELAY IN REPORTING PDC RESULTS
In comments on his Internet blog dated June 30, 2007 former Monroe councilman Minnick slammed the Monitor for not yet running the story of it’s own PDC investigation results saying to his readers, “You must have missed the article in the Monitor about them being guilty of a Public Disclosure violation in relation to their campaign donations to Monroe City Councilwoman Margie Rodriguez. You missed the article because the Monitor neglected to report it.”
In contrast to the long delay in publishing results of its own PDC case the Monroe paper routinely has published timely news of when the newspaper wins awards for journalism or graphic design.
Former council member Minnick went on to say Monroe Monitor readers have still not been made aware of the Monitor’s “conflict of interest they had in their reporting on the City Council race last year. Did their readers know the Monitor was Rodriguez’ largest campaign donor while they were reading the “news” and the weekly hit columns that made false and frequent accusations?”
MINNICK LABELED MONITOR UNETHICAL: The paper’s story on Minnick affair was not accurate
Minnick accused the paper of violating the ethical standard fair journalists adhere to.
The July 8, 2008 Monroe Monitor news article on the PDC investigation results, by Monitor Editor Polly Keary, incorrectly reported that only the Monroe Monitor newspaper had been in violation of the law.
In fact both Ken Robinson, the paper’s publisher (acting as a commercial advertiser in his own publication) and the Monroe Monitor newspaper were both found to be in violation of the law according to the PDC’s posted and dated results of enforcement hearings in May of 2008.
The same Monroe Monitor article also incorrectly reported the PDC ruled against the Monitor in Mr. Minnick’s complaint “in June” when in fact the PDC ruled much earlier and published the results of the hearing officer’s decision in a state document dated May 23, 2008.
The same July 8th Monitor article failed to disclose that during the 2007 political race between Minnick and Rodriguez that the Monroe Monitor's publisher Ken Robinson made the $1,000 in-kind donation to the Rodriguez campaign of ad space.
Minus that disclosure, readers of the Monroe Monitor were left with the impression, says Minnick that all ads in the Monitor promoting Ms. Rodriguez were paid for by her campaign.
Minnick added in his column, “The Monitor’s readers assumed the columns and “news” they were getting from their local paper was fair and balanced. But no disclosure of the Monitor’s donations was ever made in their newspaper…Monitor readers had no idea of the newspaper’s inherent bias nor the fact that they were sandbagging for Margie Rodriguez…would you trust the reporting of a newspaper or the opinion of an editor who was heavily invested in a candidate? Or would you assume their conflict of interest made them naturally biased?”
A 2008 article in the Sky Valley Chronicle was the only local news source – and remains the only local news source to date – to publish details of Minnick's complaint to the PDC that were never covered by the Monitor or any other Sky Valley news source.
You can read the details of the Minnick complaint HERE