Terri Miller Nelson ’89 has a knack for choosing industries with financial challenges. She started in real estate, moved to aerospace and finally settled in newspapers, where she has spent the last 18 years. Her duties as vice president of finance for Freedom Newspapers require daily attention to the budgets of 34 dailies throughout the South and Southwest. With the economy declining, the financial pressures facing papers have accelerated.
“The desperation in the newspaper industry results from a lot of consolidation,” Terri says. “Papers took on debt that seemed reasonable at the time because of expected revenue streams. But difficulties in the economy led to a decline in advertising, and the debt loads have created serious problems.”
Other factors exacerbate the situation. “Papers are also in trouble because they give away their news on the Internet and through Yahoo and Google,” she says. “They have to make a decision that their content is worth something and charge online readers.” Most of Freedom’s papers post their information for free on the Web, although the Colorado Springs Gazette charges a monthly fee. “We thought advertising on the Web would bring in enough revenue, but that hasn’t happened. It’s a broken model that needs to be fixed.”
The East Valley Tribune in Phoenix, a Freedom property, switched to printing a paper only four days a week in January while updating the Web site daily. Subscriptions are now free. Will this experiment retain existing advertisers and attract new ones? Terri applauds the innovation and hopes it takes hold.
“All of us believe newspapers will exist in some form that is portable,” she says. “People aren’t ready to give up paper. But I’m concerned that newspapers have decried their own death. We need to point out that we’re the watchdogs of the government. Blogging — citizen journalism — doesn’t have the same clout and can’t accomplish the same level of investigative reporting.”
What will it take to woo back advertisers who have left newspapers? “Papers have never been on the cutting edge of anything, but they’re becoming more aggressive now,” Terri says. “We’re starting to combine online ads with print ads, e-mails and texting to provide a comprehensive solution.”
The Freedom papers benefit from group-wide purchases Terri negotiates, and she has consolidated printing sites in two states. “I look for ways to save money on the backside and track expenditures by all the papers,” she says.
Terri loves the newspaper industry and plans to stick with it. “There’s a brand new product every day,” she says. “Everything changes so quickly; you can learn in six months what it takes three years to pick up somewhere else. I look at profit-and-loss figures and budgets daily.”
At Westmont Terri earned a degree in economics and business with a minor in theater. “My two great passions were being on the stage and accounting,” she says. “I loved the campus and the people; everyone is so caring. For a play, I had six different hair colors in a few weeks, and one of my professors asked me if I was going through a tough time. He cared enough to ask.”
The closest Terri comes to theater today is playing online games with her family. Her husband, Marcus, is an artist who stays home with their two children, 6 and 4, in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. “We always knew I would be the one working; he is far more patient than I am,” she says.