PULLMAN, Wash. Eric LaFontaine, publisher of the Othello Outlook and Board of Trustees member for the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association’s Board visited students at WSU’s Murrow College of Communication on Wednesday afternoon.
LaFontaine spoke with students about his career, how we ended up where he is, and how others can enjoy a similar path in journalism.
The chat began with LaFontaine’s effort to loosen up the class with a joke about a pirate and a magician but the punchline seemed to be lost on the students.
He told the class he graduated from the University of Washington in 1999 with a B.A. degree in Political Science and worked in behavioral healthcare for three years as director of public relations.
In 2007, he was hired as the Publisher and Editor of the Othello Outlook, a 100-year-old community newspaper with modest readership based in Othello, Washington. Six months later, competition in the form of another local newspaper caused some serious issues for LaFontaine.
The Othello Outlook published bi-weekly every Wednesday and was priced at $1 per week or readers could purchase an annual subscription for $35.
The new publication not only published a day before LaFontaine’s, but was free.
LaFontaine closely monitored the situation and it began clear that he was losing readers, and therefore money. He then spoke about the unique set of challenges he faced in making sure the Outlook lived to see another centennial.
He improved the Outlook’s social media reach, redesigned the website from the ground up to the point where it won awards, and even published free supplementel content a day before the competition in order to bring back interest in the Outlook.
One of the most important points in LaFontaine’s discussion was the crucial aspect of tailoring content to the interests of your readers.
“Figure out your community and depending on who and what you write for, you have got to write for your audience,” said LaFontaine.
He said that Othello’s population is 80 percent Latino and 40 percent under the age of 30 years old.
LaFontaine stressed that part of knowing your community comes from experiencing what the area has to offer. Even though he lives in Moses Lake, he knows how to tailor to the citizens of Othello.
He also spoke about the challenges of micromanaging people at a small newspaper and took questions in the room.
LaFontaine said he’s hiring, passed out his business cards to the room and told students to keep writing, getting published, and take photos to become a multi-faceted reporter.