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A theory on the trouble at metros

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by JayFarrar, Jul 5, 2008.

  1. JayFarrar

    JayFarrar Well-Known Member

    As I was doing some driving yesterday, I was thinking about newspapers and the problems that some most metros are having.
    It occurred to me that the problem has several points:
    • The suburban papers have gotten much better.
    I think it used to be the case that the major metro was so much obviously better than the suburban dailies, that if you wanted to know what was going, you had to read the metro. I think in lots of markets that isn't the case anymore, at least in terms of local news coverage. Using Chicago as an example, the Daily Herald does a fine job of covering Chicago, not quite but nearly as good as the Trib or S-T. The franchise was the national and international news at the Trib. The Trib was such a bigger paper in terms of page count and sections, not much was left out.
    Now, as the Trib relies more and more on wires, how is that coverage any different from what you would find in the DH? Same goes for sports. It used to be the metros were the only ones that could afford to travel. Now, that isn't the case as the major beats all get road coverage. Or at least do in theory.
    And as the metros shrink, what is going to be the difference between the suburban papers and the metros. It will be harder and harder to spot since the writing and editing has gotten better and both have about the same amount of space.
    • The snob factor
    "You get your news from the metro? I only read the Journal and the Times."
    I think as papers cut society coverage. As they reach out to the suburbs, all those limo liberals living up in the rich part of town, have yet another reason not to read the paper, since the paper doesn't cover the things that matter to them.
    • Getting important stories online.
    Every paper, nearly every day has at least one story that needs to be read. Say I'm a business exec. and the local metro has a story coming out about my company. I might be able to read the story online before it hits the print edition or why bother buying a copy when I can read the story online the day it prints?
    • Giving it away for free.
    Five days a week, I get every word in the AJC's sports section e-mailed to me. Atlanta isn't the only place doing this, but why would I bother with a subscription to any paper when I can get it for free?
    • Slumping local advertisers
    Want to know why Alltel being bought by Verizon is a huge story? Look at your paper, and count how many Alltel ads are in it. If your paper has them, you can count on some layoffs coming to your shop. Verizon might buy some more ads, but not enough to make up the difference in lost revenue.
    In terms of local purchasing power, how many places still advertise regularly: local banks, healthcare places, cell phones, department stores, car dealerships and real estate.
    But the banks are merging. Local ownership is going away in other segments and some ad money is going to different forms of media — TV, radio and online.
    National advertising used to make up the difference, but that isn't true as much as it used to be.
    I don't think it is an obit for the industry. I have a copy of a Friday metro right beside me. One that is maligned for having poor management and full of bad decisions.
    The A section is 24 pages, sports has 12 pages and datelines from both coasts on the sports cover. And when you set the thing down, it makes a thump since the thing has a total of nine sections.
    It doesn't look like a paper that might be out of business tomorrow. But, I guess, neither did Enron.
  2. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    Move giving it away for free to the top. I get my local major metro's sports section emailed to me as well. I canceled my print subscription a few weeks ago and the customer service rep (in the catch-all Gannett call center) asked me why and I said "because the product is free online." She said it wasn't and that some parts require a fee. I told her that's not true, that I get entire sections sent to my inbox. She clammed up in a hurry and I got my cancelation completed, including a refund for parts unused.
  3. BTExpress

    BTExpress Well-Known Member

    I'm staggered by how many times I read about how people on this board cancel their print subscriptions.

    To each his own, of course, but if we cannot appreciate the print product, then who will?

    It's free online? Fine. Get it for the coupons. But do not contribute --- even in a small way --- to our own demise.
  4. Stone Cane

    Stone Cane Member

    i never see anybody under the age of 30 -- maybe 35 -- reading a newspaper.

    on flights, in airports, on trains, sitting alone in restaurants or bars, at the library ... never. not even rarely. i always look, too. i'm now at the point where when i see anybody reading a newspaper i'm surprised.

    pitiful how kids would rather sit without anything to read on flights or trains or whatever than read a newspaper.
  5. SixToe

    SixToe Active Member

    I was with a 28-year old from SoCal last summer on a business trip and asked if he read any of the papers out there.

    "Of course, the L.A. Times every day," he said.

    I was shocked and asked why, since he was supposedly part of the blackcrackjackberry generation with a 2-minute attention span.

    "CNN and television suck because they don't have depth," he said. "I want something I can carry with me, read on a break, read in the morning and find out more than in 45 seconds. I still watch the television news and listen to the radio but I get my real news from the Times or USA Today if I am on the road."

    I thanked him.
  6. Riddick

    Riddick Active Member

    It's really simple.
    Reporters and editors did their job. They provided tons of content, often times more content than they actually had space for.
    The ad people didn't do their fuckin job. As times changed over the last 20 years, they didn't change their sales model and fucked us all over. Instead, they became lazy, simply counting on advertisers to come to them instead of showing initiative, IMO.
    And, I wish I could say this was my brainstorm, but I'm sure we all heard the same thing from leaders at MLB, NFL, NASCAR, and every retail store in the country.
  7. HejiraHenry

    HejiraHenry Well-Known Member

    I see a lot of papers that have either quit trying to cover the "street" in their towns (Hello, Nashville!) or do a decent job but then bury the stories in their second sections (Hello, Memphis!) so they can run the same damned AP stories on their front pages that everyone else does.

    Both of those seem to be formulas for fail.
  8. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    I may be a bit biased because my dad worked in newspaper advertising. But he made most of his money on commission. He turned down a few feelers from larger papers because their salesmen received very small comissions while receiving much bigger guaranteed salaries than my dad did. He was confident in his ability to sell and did not want what was basically a company-imposed limit on how much he could make. But the fact is that newspapers that pay mostly by commission or pay mostly by salaries, they're both hurting now. Incentive doesn't seem to be making a difference. The fact is that my dad's old paper is a lot thinner because WalMart (etc.) has killed off the indy stores that were the bulk of that paper's advertisers.

    I'm not an expert on advertising, but my understanding of my dad's creed was that a client wasn't someone to be fleeced, you wanted to advise them how to most effectively spend their advertising budget (and there is a yearly budget -- it is not a bottomless well). Just as reporters don't want to burn a source, a good salesperson is mindful of establishing and maintaining a relationship for the long haul. People here get pissy over an advertising department's inability or unwillingness to sell a high school football tab, but the fact is that the advertiser still is going to spend only X amount that year NO MATTER WHAT, and in some markets the football tab may not be the best use of the client's ad budget.

    The other thing is there are advertisers that your paper really doesn't want. A free weekly started when I was a kid and my dad said, "Yeah, they have all the advertisers who don't pay their bills." (The weekly died pretty quickly.) You may see local stores that you believe should be approached by the ad department, but chances are that they know something you don't. A salesperson who gives away precious newsprint to a store that isn't going to pay for it isn't going to keep his job very long.

    If he were alive, my dad would hate what's going on now because he was keenly aware that while some of his job was within his power, to some extent his effectiveness was enhanced or worsened by a strong news product, dependable delivery, quality printing. Cutbacks in the newsroom affect the product and affect the ability of advertising people to sell ads and circulation department to sell subscriptions, and then it becomes a vicious cycle of chicken-and-egg.

    I'd place the blame higher than the advertising department.
  9. JackReacher

    JackReacher Well-Known Member

    I can appreciate the print product, but like everyone else, if I can get something for free, I'm going to do it. Sorry if that helps contribute to our demise, but it's just smart. Why pay for something when you don't have to?

    I doubt Joe Reader is saying to himself, "Hey, the writers and editors of my local paper still buy it, so it must mean I should keep my subscription too, even though I can save that money for $4-a-gallon gas and read the paper online for free."
  10. Baron Scicluna

    Baron Scicluna Well-Known Member

    I worked for a free weekly as an ad salesman for a brief time. The weekly was floundering (the company was in bankruptcy and the weekly is a totally different product under new ownership today), and I was given a territory that had numerous competition, and had been a failed territory for the weekly on previous occasions.

    I also didn't do well, partially because I'm admittedly not a good salesman, and partially because of numerous other factors involving the paper. I also was barely trained for one day before being thrown into the territory. On my first day, I came back, and everyone was like, "Did you sell any ads today?"

    The paper was so desperate for any ads, they were willing to throw an early-20 something kid out there with nearly zero training and pray that he sold enough large ads. Not only that, but, like Frank said, they wanted businesses to advertise, even if it didn't make sense for them to. There was no long-term targeting for them.

    Needless to say, I didn't last there very long.
  11. Sean Smyth

    Sean Smyth Member

    Papers hither and yon have been hurt, massively, by the Macy's merger(s). When Boston lost Filene's, the Herald and Globe lost a sizable number of full-page ads every day. Maybe 10 pages, tabloid and broadsheet, between the two. That hurts.

    And Jay, it seems like suburbans are cutting back on travel, not enhancing it. Ten years ago, there still was one Boston suburban (The Patriot Ledger) covering every Boston team, home and road. This year, that same paper (or one of its now-sibling suburbans) didn't even send someone to the Super Bowl when a 19-0 season was on the line.
  12. FileNotFound

    FileNotFound Well-Known Member

    I travel a lot, and I see people of all ages reading. Of course, they're reading paperbacks, Us Weekly, People and things like that. I won't read a newspaper on a plane; it's too much of a pain to handle without smacking the person in the next seat. When I do see people reading newspapers on a plane, it's almost always the same newspaper: The Wall Street Journal.
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