The Sun Times News Moves Forward with Chuck Colby as Executive Director
Chuck and Michelle Colby
| 5 min | by Sean Dalton |
Renowned local marketer, salesman, and entertainer Chuck Colby stepped into the newly created role of Executive Director at The Sun Times News as of this past August and has been leading the day-to-day operations of the company through its ongoing reorganization and the printing of the paper since it resumed weekly printing on September 30th, 2020.
The Sun Times News announced the suspension of its weekly printed newspaper on July 13. That week’s July 16 issue was the last printed Sun Times News edition in the company’s continuous publishing history of roughly 20 years going back to the paper being focused on and based out of Stockbridge.
The suspension was instituted as a result of the shock that the Covid-19 pandemic delivered to local economies throughout Washtenaw County, the state, and the rest of the country. The resulting fallout from that shock was the disruption of the newspaper’s ongoing business relationships that financially supported it.
Colby’s first order of business has been reestablishing those relationships and regaining the financial backing of local advertisers to fuel The Sun Times News’ return to full operation.
“Chuck has done a phenomenal job of very quickly learning our business practices and infusing them with his unique skills and talents,” said Sun Times News owner, Bob Nester. “We’re aren’t just back to printing a weekly newspaper; we’re doing so with a reinvigorated spirit and reshuffled team including some existing and some new talent.”
*Anchor Staff Writer Lonnie Huhman continues to be The Sun Times News lead journalist covering local community, political, and business news.
*Mike Williamson will continue his 20-year tradition of covering sports for this newspaper with the same knowledge and enthusiasm that has carried his work for these past two decades.
*Doug Marrin has taken The Sun Times News website in an entirely new direction over the past couple of months. Marrin has migrated the newspaper’s website from a primitive WordPress setup over to the Patch Labs online local media platform. In addition to posting articles and managing the website, Marrin is leading the planning of a bold new direction for how the Sun Times News utilizes the digital space to connect readers with a dynamic, engaging online experience that connects seamlessly with the printed newspaper.
*Sean Dalton will resume his position as a freelance local journalist and media industry consultant. In addition to covering a smattering of local politics, business, and even sports; Dalton has been deeply involved in the transition through the production gap between the newspaper’s July suspension and subsequent resurgence last week.
*Wendy Wood, who has been managing editor of The Sun Times News since 1997, remains as a business administrator and general consultant, having taken a new position outside of the newspaper industry over the summer.
The newspaper also has a new lead designer and paginator. Some new faces will also be joining the roster of editorial writers in the weeks to come.
Colby took the time to answer some questions posed by his own journalists, who not only wanted grist for the mill in writing this article but were also genuinely curious about how their new leader’s doing as he embarks on his first journey into the wild world of journalism.
Several issues in, and maybe two months of groundwork-laying prior to that, what have you done with the newspaper and where do you intend to take it by this time next year?
Colby: Just getting the first issue out was very much like going back to college. Long days, lots of cramming, a huge learning curve - It has been a challenge. That said, I am thrilled that the thing got done, and I think it looks better than ever. We have an incredible team of ace reporters - every one of them, a beautiful new layout, we're working with a new printer and the whole thing has really come together.
The pre-election issues have been incredible, and I think that the content we are publishing there is among the most valuable that we have ever printed. I am really proud of our little team that is delivering above and beyond against the odds. We picked a hell of a time to try to re-boot a paper, but we are doing it!
What sort of response are you getting from people; readers, advertisers, the staff?
Colby: The response from the readers and advertisers has been overwhelmingly positive, I feel like we are doing important work here, it really matters. Over the next year, I see us returning to delivery in Pinckney and Manchester, and maybe even more. As long as the advertisers will support it, we will grow our coverage area.
My understanding of how you wound up in this position is that it’s really an act of fate that brought you to The Sun Time News at just the right time in not only the publication’s history but your own personal and professional life as well.
Colby: My wife and I went to a bed and breakfast that is a favorite spot of ours for our wedding anniversary this past June, our first outing since the start of the stay at home order. On the way home, we were in no hurry, and we decided that we would take back roads, and my wife said "Maybe we will stumble onto a cute little farmstand where we can get some flowers and fresh vegetables."
That exact thing happened when we rounded the bend just south of Gregory and happened upon the C&C Micro-farm. We struck up a conversation with the farmer, complimented his operation, and the beautiful produce that he was offering and our joy in finding the place. He said that he was interested in expanding and would love to have a stand near Portage lake where there had been a stand in previous years, but there was not one this year.
Knowing the owner of that piece of property (who happens to own this paper), I set up a meeting with Bob Nester. A deal was struck and on the way back from the farm, Bob, Michelle, and I decided to stop and have lunch, at which time I asked Bob what was going on with the paper. Bob replied that a lot of advertisers had cancelled during the covid shutdown and that if somebody didn't sell some ads pretty soon, the paper would be belly-up.
I told Bob that I was sorry to hear that and that I wished that there was something I could do to help, to which he replied, "There is! Go sell some ads for me!" Already working in the advertising business, I had plenty of contacts to begin reaching out to, and within a short period of time, we had some agreements and a target date of September 30th for the first issue.
Liking the way that it was going, Bob asked if I might want to be the Advertising Manager, so that's what it was for a few weeks. Not long after that, Bob said "You have the vision that it takes to make this work, I want you to lead this thing - how do you like the title "Executive Director?" I was floored! Honored and very excited about the opportunity, I took the reins and started on a mad dash to the finish line - the first issue.
For the folks throughout Washtenaw County outside of Dexter and the two people in Dexter that don’t know who you are, could you give us a feel for your professional background and how it plays into your present role at The Sun Times News?
Colby: Obviously, working for an ad agency for the past several years has been a great education from the other side of the table, but I think that everything that I have done has led me to this. It's not what I EVER saw myself doing, but I am having a ball.
I have sold 95% of the shows that my singing group (THREE MEN and a TENOR) has done, so the business part of this is familiar to me. Working as the Development Director at The Encore Theatre, I really got to know a lot of folks in the community, and that has certainly helped.
Likewise, the Encore taught me an awful lot about service to the community, and that is what I think the paper is all about, while it is not a non-profit, we are serving the people in this region. Without journalists writing these stories, we are dependent upon Facebook for "news" in our towns, and when rumor becomes the "truth" we are in big trouble!