Where’s ‘Doonesbury’?

“Pathetic” was one comment.

“Dumb” was another.

One guy who has not liked The Vindicator for years had heard co-workers complaining and decided to call in just to dump on us, which seemed rather asinine.

Another caller yelled that we’re doing it for the money. I paused, then explained that we actually are a business that has to “do things for the money” in order to exist.

That’s a sampling of the calls this week about ending four beloved comic strips — “Shoe,” “For Better or For Worse,” “Doonesbury” and “Hazel.”

Friday afternoon, I finished approximately my 60th phone call or email about the change. (My apologies if I missed your call; please call back if I missed you.)

So while there were angry callers, and even outlandish ones in some cases, what was really inspiring was that once I could explain our situation, the majority of callers were polite, understanding, and in some cases, apologetic and hopeful.

The comics explanation is a tale similar for many businesses: The company that supplies those comics raised the prices on us.

We asked not to have higher rates, and warned that we would have to cancel the four strips as we are not eager to push the added costs onto our readers or our advertisers.

Yet the price hikes were carried out, and we had to act. We’re not happy about the situation, but it is one faced by many businesses.

We face tough choices from you when we have to raise your rates for subscribing or advertising. So we work hard to not put us and you in that situation.

There are a few subplots to this change, and one that includes touting some new content we think you’ll like.

One irony with the comics is that the companies are providing the comics for free over the Internet. There is a large part of our readership that uses the Internet. The irony is that we charge you for The Vindy at your home in paper form and online in its full digital form, much of it, too, is available for free online.

The difference is what we’re paying for the comics is far more costly to us than what you pay for a Vindy. And that some Vindy content is free online will likely change in the coming years as that’s where the industry is headed as we speak.

Those funnies, and the puzzles, and other such services cost us more than $300,000 per year. A single strip like “Shoe” can run as high as $100 per week. That’s a lot of local reporting resources being spent on nonlocal content.

That content has been valuable for years in newspapers, and will continue to be. But we’re being presented with an economy that is forcing our industry to make choices it has never had to before. And this week, we had to make those choices.

We were warned by many readers they, too, will make a choice that we won’t like. Here’s what I asked:

When it came time to showcase what was the likely cause of the earthquakes, it came from Vindy coverage. It was not local business leadership or state officials or local spokespeople. It was us, as even Mayor Sammarone pointed out.

When people charged with our public services asked for more tax dollars, they showed a snapshot of how taxes are spent, from their perspective. We showed a deeper picture, and voters reacted.

So as we make tougher choices about how to spend your money, we are increasingly becoming more local for the community’s benefit.

In the coming weeks, we’re to add some content that we think you will like because it’s generated excitement in our offices.

If you like local food — from burgers to beer to wine to crazy dishes, you will like what we do with our food page.

If Mayor Sammarone liked our shale coverage before, we think he will like it more in the coming weeks.

And many people look to us to learn of criminals and other folks to be wary of. We will have a new weekly product that will serve that interest as well.

Our third installment of the hugely popular Greatest Golfer of the Valley kicked off this week. And speaking of golf, Warren JFK golfer Jason Kokrak is establishing himself on the PGA Tour, and we were the leading local media to showcase his rise the last six months.

We’re also talking with organizers of a new event last year about growing their event this year.

We’re fond of the students at Youngstown State University who manage TheNewsOutlet.org. Their work last week on Ohio’s lost gas taxes made for great statehouse debate. We were pioneers of that program with YSU faculty and WYSU.

So we’re not pleased to have to take away.

But we’ve added much in recent years and will continue to do so. We hope you’ll stay with us.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. E-mail him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com.

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