The End of a Print Newspaper: Opinion

By Ken Monzingo
Forum Managing Editor

As the life of one of the oldest monthly newspapers in the country (yes, the entire country) comes to an end next month, I look sadly at the loss of this 80-year-old vehicle – Contract Bridge Forum – that has served bridge players in the west since before the birth of ACBL. (Legend and lore have it that under different names the alliances of western bridge organizations predated the founding of ACBL – formed in 1937.) The first publications of the founding fathers of Western bridge went through growing pains and identity names before finally settling on Western Conference and Contract Bridge Forum.

Prior to formations of ACBL districts and conferences regional tournaments were often run as private enterprises with entrepreneurs funding them out of their pockets, and keeping any profits. As districts were formed across ACBL, the west consisted of Districts 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, and 23. All 11 western states involved were grandfathered in, or recruited into the Western Conference.
Since that strong beginning, due mostly to finances districts have been peeling off one at a time for decades. Tom Quinlan published the paper for 15+ years in the 60s & 70s – when I took over 37 years ago we had four members left: D17 (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, etc., D20 (Oregon, Hawaii, since withdrawn), D21 (California bay area to Sacramento), and D22 (southern half of California without 23 LA County) – about 30,000 members.
The paper flourished in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but faltered financially in the 90s. but with the inception of additional funding from the Great Western STACs 27 years ago the conference rebounded. However, rising production and mailing costs since, combined with slowly dwindling tournament attendance, ate away at the association’s resources forcing raises in table sanction fees to keep up. The WC board misjudged the districts’ acceptance of these raises; District 17 opted to pull out and leave us with the two remaining California districts: D21 & D22 – a total of 15,000 members. Rather than continue on with a “California” Forum, newspaper, the current WC board voted to abruptly cease publication, and go to an online-only digital version beginning with the upcoming April edition.
Alternative offers of cutting publication costs, reducing the number of monthly mailings, or a combination of print and online were discarded for online only.

Our Member Perk

I have long advocated that meaningful district organizations contribute very little to the total membership of their turf. Oh, they work hard at promoting regional tournaments, GNT, NAP, trying to increase membership, and to govern. But the only single district perk ever afforded their entire populace was this monthly bridge newspaper delivered to all mailboxes every month – trusted communication reporting on local happenings in their own clubs, units and tournaments.
Our regionals receive both print and photo attention. Unit reports keep everyone informed of unit games, club championships, STACs, games and lessons of the clubs. Also keeps us up to date on Ace of Clubs and Mini-McKenney races, honoring Master rank advancements and other  accolades to locals. We also keep up on who is traveling, who is ill, and memorials to those we lose. And, not to be overlooked: some good gossip.

Going Online-Only

When we migrate to online-only all these services will still be intact – plus much more. Online publishing is not limited in space nor in features we can add. The new plan is each month to email everyone alerts containing an easy link to click on to view the new digital Forum. If this is efficient and user friendly it should work well, but I have my concerns as to the numbers of interested seniors. Everyone knows ACBL is a senior association, now with an average member age of 72.18. Here in District 22, Southern California, we are more mature (73.82 - second oldest).
Most of us own a computer and a cell phone, but we did not grow up in that culture, and many are not so proficient with email or Internet surfing.
Also, while the newspaper is now sent to every conference member, an online version will not reach that goal. We’ve hosted our contractbridgeforum.com website for more than 20 years where consistently only 17%-19% of the membership log on. When we go only online that percentage certainly will grow, but to what number of new senior members?
The one we’ve given to everyone to be lost in time. Along with a tradition of excellence that put us above the fold for nearly a century. Tough act to follow.
The candle flickers ... a light goes out.