Here’s Another Way To Go

This popped up on Romenesko before the holiday slump began, and I bookmarked it back then:

“Why would I put anything on the Web?” asked Dan Jacobson, the
publisher and owner of the newspaper. “I don’t understand how putting
content on the Web would do anything but help destroy our paper. Why
should we give our readers any incentive whatsoever to not look at our
content along with our advertisements, a large number of which are
beautiful and cheap full-page ads?”

Other
publications much larger than TriCityNews have been wondering about
pumping resources into a medium that does not seem to show a promise of
returns any time soon.

Writing in TheNew York Observer,
John Koblin pointed out that when Forbes, Portfolio and Fortune went
through recent retrenchments, the Web staffs were hit the hardest. That
may be just an old print reflex, but there is a rational argument to be
made that the part of the apparatus that has a working business model,
declining or not, should receive the resources.

At a time when Web entrepreneurs like Nick Denton ofGawker Media
are predicting a 40 percent decline in Web display advertising, it’s
probably not a great time to be indexing into the Web either.

And
there are signs that the free ride for consumers may be coming to an
end. I started getting notices to renew my subscription to The Wall
Street Journal and its Web site and waited, as I have in the past, for
the deeply discounted offer. It never came. And according to company
statements in October, paid subscriptions for The Journal’s Web site
were up more than 7 percent from a year ago.

A few caveats
before we turn back the clock on publishing history. TriCityNews
employs 3.5 people (the half-time employee handles circulation), has a
print run of 10,000, and has a top line that can be written in six
figures.Still, by setting rates low almost 10 years ago and never
raising them or offering a Web option, Mr. Jacobson has built a
reliable cadre of advertisers who call for ads, sign up for full pages,
and pay in advance. There are no people working for sales commissions.
[Emphasis mine]

Editorially,
the newspaper is boosterish — “we want people to think of Asbury Park
as the center of the universe,” he said — with notes of skepticism
typical of alternative weeklies. There are six columnists in addition
to the full-time staff, and they write with a mix of attitude and
reporting that Mr. Jacobson describes as a “plog,” a blog on paper.

First, on the “boosterish” note, a newspaper that doesn’t bleed love for its environment is a shitty newspaper. Love doesn’t mean ignoring the flaws in that environment or fluffing the local politicians, either; in fact love means a relentless and noisy challenge to the beloved place to be all it can be, to be better and better and better. That’s not boosterism, that’s vigorous and righteous journalism, and what’s with the condescending line about “notes of skepticism typical of alternative weeklies?” When did skepticism become the purview of those with a seven-day shelf life? I swear, we need an academic panel on Journalistic Smugness and Its Attendant Jargon.

Second, as to the bolded portion of the second to last quoted graf here, isn’t it interesting that a business model which supports a paper without extravagant profit or inflated expectation is being presented as somewhat unrealistic? What would happen, in fact, if all newspapers and (ugh) newspaper companies budgeted reasonably, developed a cadre of reliable supporters and didn’t run around flinging money out of the windows and then bitching about their poverty? Really, that’s the height of idealism these days, to run a business sensibly? Goddamn, Mary Lou, here’s a place whatain’tfucking up, isn’t that something you’ve never seen before?

And tired web vs. print setups aside, what journalism can and should take away from this story is that you can’t half-ass anything anymore. Ignore the web if you want, or use it in a limited way, but you’d better then be putting out a great paper. No matter WHAT you’re doing, you’d better be running the business side of it well. You can’t do what most newspapers do, which is to put out a shitty web site and a mediocre paper while stealing from employees and advertisers and subscribers, and then complain there’s no way to succeed in this business.

A.

2 thoughts on “Here’s Another Way To Go

  1. BuggyQ says:

    “No matter WHAT you’re doing, you’d better be running the business side of it well.”
    Aye, there’s the rub. How many of the editors, owners, investors of these dinosaur papers are free market, Ayn-Randian, lunatic Republicans?
    Honestly, one of the things I’ve come to realize over the past months of economic chaos is that it seems like the most radical of the free marketers are the ones who demand ridiculously high returns on their investments. And then they scream for government help when their risky investments blow up in their faces.
    It’s time for investors to return to sanity–getting rich quick is dangerous work. If you can’t afford to lose everything you invest in a high-risk investment, put your money in a savings account.

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  2. The Lodger says:

    I remember Dan Jacobson from back when I did four years in Asbury. He wasn’t a greedhead then, and apparently, he isn’t one now. It’s apparently working for him to keep the company small and private, thereby not locking it into the Profitability Spiral that’s causing so many other newspaper/radio/whatevermedia companies to burn themselves at the altar of Shareholder Return.

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