The Shrinking Republic

Rolo Creative

The decline of Gannett

A recent Tweet by @RoloCreative alerted me to an article on NationOfChange.com about the travails of the parent company / conglomerate overlord of the Arizona Republic newspaper [history].

Clearly part of the problem is the utter abdication of reason and common sense by the folks who are responsible for the ludicrous executive compensation packages given to folks like former Gannett CEO Craig Dubow. As described in the article, he got a severance package worth $32 million after presiding over a 6-year, $1.7 billion decline in revenue; and stock prices tumbling by 86%.

It is equally clear that the faltering economy has affected the newspaper business, like it has many businesses. Another reality is that the way people consume news–and the news in which they are interested–continue to change, and the traditional media has struggled to maintain relevance.

The Expanding Demographic

It isn’t so much that the print people haven’t kept up, but rather that they failed to recognize that the demographic is expanding faster than they can serve it. The newspapers have embraced technology, and specifically they are making content available online. However, they are stretched thin by the spectrum they are now required to cover. To a large degree, online viewership competes with the print version.

Some folks will always read the print version. I would love to have time to read the print paper and I envy those who still do. However, I have increasingly relied upon electronic media…which doesn’t necessarily include broadcast outlets, and they are suffering, too.

A friend in broadcast media once labeled the newspaper: “Yesterday’s News Tomorrow.” However, one could make equally snide comments about lack of depth of the broadcast media coverage, too. So, it is clearly a balancing act between timeliness, detail, relevance to consumer interest, cost, advertising revenue, etc.

I have been highly critical of our beloved Arizona Republic. My dearly departed friend, Don Badenoch, used to publish a satirical knock-off called “The Repugnant.” He would also occasionally take a swing at the other rag in town with a periodic edition of “The Fibune.”

Mark Scarp

The Scottsdale Tribune

Of course, now that the Tribune’s Scottsdale community edition is gone, we recognize that we didn’t know how good it was to have competing papers. I would also note that editor Mark Scarp made it a point to NOT endorse candidates in Scottsdale political races. I always respected Mark and the Scottsdale Trib for that.

Mark is back working for the EVTrib as a contributor (among other efforts), and I found a recent article by Mark in the Ahwatukee Foothill News.

On the subject of the Trib, I also found a 2009 story by former Trib writer Craig Outtier about the demise of ‘the other newspaper.’  Outtier says:

Traditionally, newspapers play a unique and empowering role in civic identity.

The editors at the Republic aren’t so much about “empowering” as they are about expressing their opinions and trying to shape the political landscape through editorial recommendations and election endorsements. I have long criticized them for editorializing too much, and not enough journalism.

There are certainly many lessons to be learned in the story of the Trib’s retreat to the “East Valley.” I hope the lessons are not lost on Gannett or the Arizona Republic.

Watch out for the Bloggers

And then you (and the traditional media) have to watch out for the bloggers. In my spare time, I cover ten times the depth on subjects that are of interest to me, than does the Republic. So, for those with similar interests I am their best source of news on those subjects. Systemic editorial delays  also mean that bloggers can easily beat traditional media to the punch with breaking news. With the advent of Twitter and email-capable smart phones, the plugged-in crowd seeking detail and timeliness can completely ignore traditional media.

Jim McAllister

Local blogger Jim McAllister used to do a Plugged-In blog for AZCentral. However, when AZC switched to a Facebook-based comment system to help weed out the nastier anonymous comments, virtually everyone stopped commenting. That includes folks I KNOW are Facebook users and used to post comments under fake names.

Because he is not a Facebooker and doesn’t intend to be, Jim now posts exclusively on his Google-based Blogspot site which he has maintained since 2005. Three months after making the switch, Jim says he’s getting 20-30 comments per article on his blog, which is way more than he got on AZC.

If you have followed me for anytime at all, you know I’m a heavy user of the comment section on AZC. I’ve always posted under my real name, and I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback that readers respect me for that.

The End of Anonymous Comments?

On the other hand, I find it ironic that most other users no longer comment at all on the AZCentral columns that require Facebook sign-in (not all do yet, apparently because of difficulty integrating the system). So, on the most contentious columns (usually the ones penned by the editors), I’m frequently the only commenter, which is good for my point of view but not necessarily for community dialog.

TPM writer Nick Martin

Interestingly, Outtier’s article opens with the revelation that the closing of the Scottsdale Tribune was announced first by a blogger, Nick Martin [Twitter feed], a former Trib employee who upon leaving went on to publish the City Heat blog. Nick has recently taken a post with TalkingPointsMemo, a political blog out of Washington, DC. Nick still writes on Arizona issues, including his piece, “Bombs on the Border,” dated this week.

TPM describes itself thus:

Talking Points Memo (TPM) is one of the most innovative political news organizations in the United States. The editors of Time magazine say TPM “has become the prototype of what a successful Web-based news organization is likely to be in the future.” With its relentless focus on breaking news, original reporting and investigative journalism, TPM has made itself a must-read for DC insiders, the media who cover them and politically engaged people everywhere. And media watchers have taken notice too: In addition to many other awards and citations, TPM was the first online news organization to win the prestigious George Polk Award in 2008.

The Republic’s “Neighborhood Sites”

Ironically, in a bid to capture some of the depth and timeliness of social media (I put blogging in that category), the Republic is making a further foray into that arena with their new “Neighborhood Sites.” I found out about this via a blog post by Pete Kosednar.

Upon inquiry I received this response from Melissa Farley  a producer and editor with The Arizona Republic/AZCentral.com.

AZCentral.com is launching a series of new neighborhood sites for the east valley and Scottsdale.  We are seeking writers, bloggers, active community members, local businesses, organizations and anyone interested to contribute to these sites to make them not only about the community, but by the community.

We have found this will be a better way to serve the large population of Arizona with more detailed, focused attention placed on individual neighborhoods so we can share, discuss and interact about what is important to you and not just what is being covered in major headlines.

I’d like to invite you and the organization to be a part of this exciting, innovative journey with me. The site is extremely user friendly and the type of posts we are looking for are not extensive but would preferably include a video or photo and a few sentences detailing events in your area including but not limited to:

  • library activities
  • politics/chamber updates
  • volunteer opportunities
  • concerts
  • benefit events
  • health clinics
  • business news or tips
  • crime reports or suspected break-ins
  • new restaurant openings
  • available real estate or empty lots
  • classes/seminars/lectures/workshops
  • art gallery happenings
  • family fun
  • local sport scores and game schedules
  • highlights on community members, students of the week, etc.

This is a great way to receive public exposure, identify your brand as an expert among the community and be actively involved.

I spoke with Melissa briefly and she described the goal of this effort to have 17 new websites, broken down into “neighborhoods” centered on major geographic identifiers. For example, the five Scottsdale-related  “neighborhoods” envisioned by the Republic are:

  1. Cave Creek/Carefree.
  2. Fountain Hills.
  3. Pinnacle Peak.
  4. Airpark.
  5. Old Town.

Obviously, these will be different from their “community sites,” in that they will be more detailed and focused on a smaller area. There won’t be hard demarcations, but rough boundary maps will be included on the web.

1st week of May is the target for the soft launch of Neighborhood Sites. They have about 150 contributors signed up for all 17 sites, and are shooting for a target of 255 authors or about 15 per site.

There will be no compensation, and the work product they want is social media type blogging, pictures and video, precise descriptions, two sentences per paragraph. However, Melissa says bloggers are not the main demographic from which they are recruiting.

If you are interested, you can email Melissa with your name, neighborhood and contact information.

UPDATE: See also the Republic’s requirements and information for participating.

What’s Next for ScottsdaleTrails?

I don’t aspire for ScottsdaleTrails to be a ‘prototypical Web-based news organization,’ like TalkingPointsMemo.com. But I ask myself: Who is in MY demographic? Will my efforts work in conjunction with or in competition against AZC’s Neighborhood Sites?

Am I writing for an audience of folks like me? Are there enough people like me out there to make it worthwhile? Do I change the topics I cover or the manner in which I cover them to reach a larger demographic? How large does my demographic need to be to accomplish what needs to be done?

And, clearly a strong core of what I write is not journalism. Rather, it is opinion. Am I guilty of the same excessive editorializing for which I criticize the Republic? Is that OK, given I make no pretense of journalistic neutrality.

What do you think? How do you consume your news and get information about your community?

And how could that news and information be better delivered?

 

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6 Comments

  1. John,

    I consume most of my local news via the internet, with a mattering of TV. Scottsdale Trails is a must-read for me. Thanks for your excellent – and much needed – work.

    Charles Peters
    E. Via de Ventura
    95258

  2. So apparently there are no other relevant neighborhoods beyond what the AZ Rep has determined. Excuse me, but there is an awful lot to Southern Scottsdale than Old Town (which leaves out the Downtown by the way).

    Could it be that the AZ Rep chooses to ignore the southern part of Scottsdale and the mature neighborhoods because they agree with the Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor and developers that the best way to address economic revitalization is to drive down property values to allow developers to buy up property cheaply and obliterate residential neighborhoods to accommodate infill development?

  3. John,

    Thanks for the plug.

    Melissa Farley contacted me about being a writer for the new setup but I told her I had no interest and the reasons why which are extensive. I would rather do my own blog; it gives me a lot more freedom as I can write as many sentences I want per paragraph and post anytime I want on any subject I want. With the Google technology being improved so much since 2005, I can do a really attractive piece artistically and hopefully interesting to read also.

    Keep doing “Trails”, I look forward to your stuff.

    Jim

  4. Great post, John. In-depth and balanced from my perspective. The biggest compliment a blogger can receive from a reader: I began reading with the mindset that I didn’t have time to read the whole thing. And then I read the whole thing. 🙂

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