Relentless Marketing

The always excellent Whet Moser of the Chicago Reader:


Actually, that’s not entirely true. At the very, very end, the editor ofRedEye, Tran Ha, got up and said, basically, hey, there’s theRedEye, we’re makin’ money.

There was grumbling. It was bittersweet.

I’m serious as a plague about this: theRedEye
is the most read paper in Chicago. Numbers whatever: I trust my eyes,
which are on public transportation twice a day, and it’s everywhere. So
it has to be reckoned with. Tran Ha should have been on the panel.

And the first question should have been: What isRedEye? I still don’t really know.

It was pitched as training wheels for a real paper, but it has no
editorial voice, or, as far as I can tell, mission. Its news is
imported from Mother Tribune and the AP. Itscolumnists andbloggers
seem to have no interest in local or state issues, especially political
issues. It’s sterile, a sterility masked by its tightly edited
cleverness, and not just because of its overwhelming celebrity and
sports content. There’s little of the marrow of city life to the paper. It doesn’t feel like a city, it feels like a focus group.

Right.It’s a shallow piece of shit, if you’re a stuck-up newsie snob like me and most everyone I know in the business. But it’s an omnipresent shallow piece of shit. It has simple, cheap distribution and is marketed as if the lives of tiny kittens depended upon its success, and the people who run it don’t spend all their time beeyotching in public about how it used to be this colossus and now it blows.

The question I have is whether you could apply the backend tactics that make a shallow piece of shit work so well to a newspaper that isn’t a shallow piece of shit. My position has long been that content matters far less than we content-producers like to think it does, that you can convince anyone to pick up anything if you shove it in their faces enough, and that people who came up through journalism to become newspaper execs like to fuck with the journalism because it’s what they know but they’re not willing to dig into the intricacies of marketing and distro because they feel out of their depths.

(Which is stupid; we pride ourselves on becoming experts at anything by talking to all the experts and distilling it down to the simplest form so people can understand it. Mostly, though, the problem with all discussion of newspapers these days is that it’s being done by journalists, who can do jack shit about the actual problems with newspapers.)

It helps RedEye that it’s free (I thought only the dastardly Internet had free content?) but it also helps that I cannot walk twelve blocks to work every day without tripping over at least five boxes of the thing. Even though I’m adamantly opposed to it in theory, by the end of my daily trek I feel like I should get one anyway on the off chance that then it might leave me alone.


3 thoughts on “Relentless Marketing

  1. I will never, ever understand why the current newspaper execs are so inept. Why is it that every other business in the United States, and around the world, understands that a) you have to have something people will buy, b) you then have to make it easily available at a price point that makes it sellable, and c) market the shit out of it…but newspapers right now seem completely clueless about this?
    I can name any number of papers similar to the RedEye–free papers, with tons and tons of advertising interspersed with the occasional interesting article or review or column. And they all seem to be doing just fine, Craigslist notwithstanding.
    The problem is not the internet. The problem is that many of these failing newspapers are offering increasingly shitty content (less and less in-depth local coverage, for example), but still expecting readers to pay for it and advertisers to buy ads in it. There’s a reason I stopped taking the Rocky. Don’t blame me for its demise.
    (And on a completely unrelated note, the Kindle may be the Newton 2.0, but I still love mine. The people who should be most worried about the Kindle and its ilk are the textbook resellers. Very soon, somebody’s gonna figure out that giving students one of these suckers and selling them electronic versions of their textbooks is the way to run a college bookstore…)

  2. I pick up the RedEye. It’s a better value to read over lunch and then toss. If I have quarters on me I might get a real paper from a machine next to it but people save quarters for things like their laundry machine these days. It’s got crap news content (stories are only a few paragraphs long if you are lucky) but if you are looking for something to read while you wolf down a hot dog it beats the Trib and Sun-Times. I also get thoughts about wasting so much paper just to read for a few minute so the RedEye feels less wasteful, even though the content makes Hello Kitty! seem dark and brooding.

  3. Even though I’m adamantly opposed to it in theory, by the end of my daily trek I feel like I should get one anyway on the off chance that then it might leave me alone.
    Heh. One thing I have noticed, though: books seem to be running second to the RedEye in my Chicago Public Transportation offhand reading survey. Perhaps if newspapers die off fast enough, the publishing industry will be saved.
    Thanks for the kind words, sorry it took a couple days for me to comment. Homepage redesign = total time, mood destruction.

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