Sound regional publisher stresses local connections

Partnerships offer lifeline despite struggling industry

Newspapers nationwide are struggling, but Eran Kennedy, regional publisher for Sound Publishing’s Olympic Peninsula News Group, says local connections are keeping the company’s publications in Clallam and Jefferson counties alive.

“News deserts are a thing of not necessarily the past, but they definitely are the future,” Kennedy said, speaking to a meeting of Coffee with Colleen, presented by the Clallam Economic Development Council (EDC).

“One of the things that is in our favor is the demographics of our market and the fact that we have a loyal bunch of subscribers, whether in print or online, and they are continuing to support our publications,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy was made regional publisher for Sound Publishing’s three North Olympic Peninsula publications — Sequim Gazette, Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum — in July following the departure of Terry Ward, former publisher and vice president of Sound Publishing. Before becoming publisher, Kennedy was advertising director for the three publications for the past five years.

Born in London and raised across Canada, Kennedy first came to Clallam County nine years ago because of her husband’s U.S. Coast Guard career. She lives in Sequim, where her two teenage children are in school, and Kennedy will remain based in the county as the publisher of the Olympic Peninsula News group.

There are nine reporters across Sound’s three local publications; five at the PDN, including two sports reporters; three in Sequim and one in Forks.

Moving forward, Kennedy said she hopes to beef up local publications’ digital presence, both online and on social media.

“We will be finding a way to give you early information and a little bit more frequently,” Kennedy said.

Data also is being collected to determine what kind of stories are the most read online, which Kennedy said will help inform future news coverage, “not to say that we’re definitely going to use that information to write more of those stories because often they’re emerging news, but really to say we’re going to target our news coverage to what the readers are very interested in reading,” Kennedy said.

Newspapers are hurting nationally and locally, Kennedy said. A 2022 study from Northwestern University found an average of two newspapers a week were shutting down between 2019-2022. The COVID-19 pandemic caused many newspapers to close and others — including the PDN, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum — lost advertising revenue.

“We did see an increase in our digital ad revenue and programmatic advertising,” Kennedy said. “So we did see an increase in that, and we did see an increase in the number of our digital subscribers, but that isn’t coming fast enough to recoup the losses that we are feeling on the print side.”

Sound Publishing has made investments in its printing presses based in Lakewood, and Kennedy said the company is now the largest commercial printer in Washington, printing a number of competitors’ publications.

Kennedy urged business owners to advertise with Sound Publishing, noting that money spent with a local publication tends to stay in the community.

She urged business leaders to support the Community News and Small Business Support Act. The bill, which was introduced last month in the U.S. House by Reps. Susan DelBene, D-Washington, and Claudia Tenney, R-New York, supports newspapers and local journalism.

“The Community News and Small Business Support Act would create two tax credit programs, each providing benefit to local newspapers whereby a small business could apply for a tax credit of up to $5,000 for the first year and $2,500 for the next four years to help pay for advertising in local newspapers,” Kennedy said.

Local newspapers also could apply for a payroll tax credit of up to $25,000 for each local journalist in the first year and $15,000 in the following four years of the program, she added.

Sound Publishing also is partnering with the Clallam EDC’s Small Business Boost program “that sparks innovation,” Kennedy said.

Peninsula Daily News has the largest website on the Olympic Peninsula,” Kennedy said. “We have upwards of a million page views every month. Those eyeballs are then eyeballs that can be used for marketing and for branding your business with a trusted local news source.”

Kennedy said she hopes to reinvigorate the internship program the company has with Peninsula College.

She also said she wants to find ways to increase wages in the newsroom, adding that journalists are among the lowest paid occupations across the nation.

“I’d like to do more investigative reporting because I think that, being the local watchdog, it’s important for us to dive into that investigative reporting,” Kennedy said.

“We have people on our team that are excellent feature writers. We’d like to see more work on the feature writing side.”