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Looking ahead to the next big thing

October 6, 2018 GMT

If you didn’t catch our story Sunday, the boards of The Herald-Dispatch and Charleston Gazette-Mail officially merged operations. There have already been some changes, and if you haven’t noticed, that’s probably a good thing. Our first mission is to continue to deliver the best local news our loyal readers have supported for generations.

Like most business, the last five years have featured major changes in our business model. In each of the communities we serve — from our smallest, Pineville, to largest, Charleston — we operate one of the longest-serving businesses in the community, each having at least 100 years of continuous operation.

For most of their history, these businesses were self-sufficient. Each had its own printing press, prepress layout and design and news gathering; each of these processes was tethered to that printing capacity and ambitious teenagers on foot and bicycle. It was not a business that required mass scale.

Today is a different world. The gathering, production and distribution of content requires not just different technology but completely different “scale.” With today’s technology, we can really deliver both Williamson to the world and the world to Williamson.

When I think about the future, my biggest fears are captured by the 1993 movie “Demolition Man,” featuring Wesley Snipes and Sylvester Stallone, set in the year 2032. The only food option was Taco Bell. While my middle son, Grant, would love it, it wouldn’t be good for selling advertising! If you remembered that detail, it was a pretty good anecdote for the point for illustrating the power of “scale.” This is not unique to tacos and news; whatever enterprise you the reader engage in, technology and consumer preference are likely changing the scale necessary to operate and compete in the marketplace.

Former Sen. Brooks McCabe has been way out front on the benefits of regional cooperation for more than a decade. He recognized first that the historical battle of institutions in Huntington and Charleston (hospitals, airports, newspapers and on and on) were destructive. Sen. McCabe talked about how a combined Huntington-Charleston metro area could be a game changer in marketing our region to outsiders. We would have enough scale to appear on their radar. However, this benefit would be a distant second if we would change how we see ourselves and the opportunities.

I’m fired up about sports gaming being legalized in West Virginia. It seems like the internet screwed up the bookmaking business in the early 2000s just long enough to put places like the Scoreboard in Huntington out of business. The Scoreboard was the place to be on a Saturday morning during college football season. I can still hear the raucous arguments of the “sure thing” that Saturday, only interrupted by the shouting of numbers from the tip board.

The lottery is still promulgating rules, and it will be interesting if the wagering ends up as a phone app like Draft Kings, or bets are mandated to be placed in person at the casinos. The socialization and collateral business opportunities likely will be starkly different, depending on which direction our state chooses. If neither happens, luckily the Scoreboard on 9th Street is still for sale. Either way, Marshall giving the six points to Middle Tennessee Friday night is a sure thing.

Doug Reynolds is managing partner of HD Media, which owns newspapers in Huntington, Charleston, Logan, Williamson, Wayne County, Madison and Pineville.