Wednesday, April 2, 2008

You reap what you sow

So says former Press-Telegram staffer Dave Wielenga, in an article at The District Weekly.

There's an interesting tidbit in the article: according to former PT publisher Ian Lamont, the current state of affairs is not a symptom of an industry in decline, but instead the inevitable result of a corporate philosophy based on maximizing short-terms profits — usually through drastic cost cutting — at the expense of long-term viability.

"It’s possible to grow a newspaper in Long Beach when you do things well,” he insists. “When I became Press-Telegram publisher in 2001, our circulation was 94,000, and when I left in 2004, it was 126,000. You see what’s happened since: I had 45 reporters, now there are 10 and circulation is down to 88,000."

This is an interesting point, and one that might surprise anyone who's heard our media potentates justify never-ending layoffs by blaming the reading public.

Lamont makes a lot of sense. The argument that readers have migrated away from newspapers in favor of alternative media implies that there's someplace for those readers to go. If you're talking about the New York Times, or USA Today, that concept may very well hold true —national news is a cutthroat business, and the competition is as numerous as it is fierce. But for a community paper providing local news, what alternative source are readers migrating to?

Television and radio? They might cover small-market news at times, but only those stories of interest to their metropolitan base. Local weekly newspapers, web sites and other alternative media? Their coverage is just as good and in some instances even better, than the local daily paper, but none of them have the resources to offer the same volume and comprehensive attention of a fully-staffed daily newspaper.

The truth is, when readers abandon their community newspaper, it's not because they're going elsewhere — they're simply going away from a newspaper that has failed to meet their needs.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say with absolute certainty that when the P-T covers local issues, things that impact the day-to-day lives of Long Beach citizens, it is always well received. But when your front page is half wire content, and the inside pages are even worse, you're giving readers little incentive to put eyes on the page.

I'm reminded of a story told by a current P-T staffer:

"When The District came out, a lot of people at the Press-Telegram thought they wouldn't survive. But then we rolled back our entertainment coverage and came out with (a universal entertainment section with content culled from all over the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, that has been almost universally panned by readers) instead. Then we started cutting back on our business coverage, and the Long Beach Business Journal moved in and picked up a lot of ground. We're giving our readership away."

1 comment:

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