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Publishers Corner: What’s next for the Press?

At Town Meeting we were surprised and incredibly pleased to learn that the Press had been honored as Citizen of Note for 2019. The publishers, together with the entire team, are grateful to have our contribution to Harvard acknowledged in such a public way.

Last week in this column, we spoke of the significance of increased support from sustaining subscribers and sustaining advertisers, as well as Rollstone Bank and the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. Unfortunately, it was implied that such increased support had enabled frequent updates to the online “State of the Town: COVID-19 status and happenings” feature. That was wrong, and I want to apologize to the writers and editors that volunteered the extra work needed to make it happen.

It’s easy to forget how much of the Press contribution to Harvard is undercompensated, or not compensated at all. From the beginning, such salaries as were established were token, at best. We were able to get started thanks to the generosity of a small number of residents who remembered the Harvard Post before it was sold, and donated substantially to get the paper started. It was not until 10 years later that startup funding was depleted, and we initiated sustainer programs.

Is the future of the Press a certainty? No. Although there are no game-ending eventualities in view, there is this reality. Much of the day-to-day work of producing the Press depends on the few people that have been doing it the last 13½  years. The news, features, and editorial side of the Press has a little bit of depth, and editor John Osborn has done a good job of recruitment and succession planning. However, the activities of accounting, finance, advertising, layout and design, and website administration have no such plan. Each of those activities is a single point of failure, with only one person who knows how to do it.

One of our partners, Lisa Aciukewicz, decided last year that with two sons in college she needed to seek more lucrative work. She was also a single point of failure, but before she left, she recruited three people, each of whom could do part of what she did. She spent many weeks before she left working with each of them, to be sure they knew what she did, and could carry on. Recently, when one of the three needed to quarantine, she stepped back in temporarily. The Paycheck Protection Program helped enable that.

If you’ve always had the urge to have a hand in running a local news operation, and you think doing so for Harvard could be fulfilling, let’s talk. We don’t expect body-for-body replacements, but it is likely that several people could work their way into some aspect of incumbent operational duties, and the crisis of a sudden departure could be averted.

As I mentioned last week, we should also replenish our capital account. Once we solve the human capital problem, that will be next. In the meantime, if you have the urge to own a piece of the Press, let us hear from you!

Worth Robbins, Sue Robbins, and  Lisa Aciukewicz are co-owners and publishers of the Harvard Press.

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