So the newspaper industry is taking a page from indie film ("A Day Without a Mexican"), dailies are hiring execs from the alternative press, and we're seeing new, almost-daily, mating rituals between older and newer news media.
What's going on? Nine questions to start:
- How about a week without the Chicago Tribune? Yes, I know the idea is a week without the AP, but isn't the idea a bit behind the public's curve? The latest circ numbers showed that more than 40,000 readers have recently decided to go a week without the paper , down -9.72% to 465,892. It's telling that the Tribune company papers are going AP-less, but their websites aren't. That tells us that precious, and costly, newsprint will be used mainly for local news, but pixel-based newsreading will include the wider world. Which, of course, makes the formerly mass market newspaper a niche -- what happened locally yesterday -- and the web mass. Sam Zell's still on the AP board, which got some good news this week as 50 papers withdrew their "cancellations". (Back in my newsroom days, I always loved "advisory cancellations.") Here's guessing AP will be around in the news business lots longer than Sam Zell.
- How do you put a new gloss on the Chron? It seems counterintuitive, but you improve the paper stock here and there, moving in some semi-gloss super-calendared paper. Sure, monthly high-gloss magazines are the only pubs failing faster than the daily press, but the San Francisco Chronicle's move seems a simple, and hardly earth-shaking, one. Christmas, I have on good authority, is still coming. Get some higher-profile advertisers, charge them a bit more than the cost of the better paper, and you have a few more profits. Pre-recession, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal -- now both new entrants for targeted Bay Area advertising, competing against the Chronicle -- were doing quite well with luxury ads. Luxe ads will make a comeback, and maybe the Chronicle's new offering will help. Besides, with daily circ down 25.8%, to 251,782, a little better paper costs a lot less than cheaper paper the Chronicle used when it had 525,00 daily circulation, back not long ago, in 2002.
- Will alternative weeklies become yet another local competitor to the dailies? The alternatives have survived the recession better than the dailies, but curiously, they've not become big online players. Instead, the Yelps, Craigslists, AngiesLists and OpenTables -- among many others -- have moved into city markets. Now Village Voice Media -- the biggest chain in the country, with 10 bigger-city weeklies -- has launched the Voice Media Group, aggregating its own and other sites. As worlds blend together, the head of the alternatives' trade group, AAN, has just succeeded Scott Bosley as the head of the American Society of News Editors. Rich Karpel starts Dec. 1.
- You think Pox News is bad, have you tried Headline News? So Sesame Street is taking a hit for taking on grouchy cable news. But Fox seems high like opera compared to the bad melodrama of CNN's Headline News (HLN). It's hard to believe anyone would pick the station, but many of us are subjected to it, me at the gym. Soundless, I watch its crawls with mouth agape. Yesterday, in just a few minutes: "Pregnant Woman Found Dead," and "This Just In -- Body at Rapist's Home Identified," repeated countless times. It ran with the Garrido case (kidnapper/child molester in Northern California) for weeks, with a headline about bones on adjacent property being checked to see whether they were animal or human, and whose. (Animal, of course.) Macabre, ghoulish, and I think far more hurtful to the watching psyche than the freak shows that talk cable has become. Recall that HLN (Headless News?) surpassed its big sister -- CNN -- in the last ratings cycle, where CNN , the nicest if least watched cable net, finished last.
- How well will Dow Jones do with the upsell dance? Much "paid content" strategy at Dow Jones seems to smartly understand that it's easiest -- and cheapest -- to sell new stuff to the customers you already have, especially when many of those can charge it to the company store. So we have the upsell on WSJ Mobile, just launched, and now WSJ Pro. Pro is first being sold to enterprise users -- a new mix of two Dow Jones products, the WSJ.com and Factiva, a rich aggregation of news sources -- and in January, it will begin be offered to individuals.
- Aren't we seeing new digital news versions of The Dating Game? You can't turn around without hearing about new combos. ProPublica and Marketplace on an investigation into University of Phoenix. The Center for Investigative Reporting and Frontline on a Carbon Watch initiative, led by the well-decorated Mark Schapiro. CBS and Global Post, tying up around global coverage generally. As the old arteries of high-quality content creation and distribution shrivel, new ones are being forged seemingly every day.
- Will public radio grab the regional aggregation opportunity? Readers love aggregation -- from journos' daily check-in of Romenesko to everyone's use of the big news collections of Yahoo, AOL, MSN and Google. Newspaper and local broadcast companies, though, have been slow to make themselves regional aggregators. Now Minnesota Public Radio, beginning to make a move to assert itself as a major online news players, has picked up NewsBobber. Bob Ingrassia, a 15-year veteran of newspapers who is now leaving Internet Broadcasting as he takes NewsBobber to MPR, says it's a quite simple proposition: "How do people sort through it all?" He tells me he manages the impressive, month-old site in the morning and evening and has harnessed all kinds of cool, free tools to rank Minnesota sites and blogs. So think about it: once again, a guy does in his spare time what better-staffed media can't figure out.
- Will the Chico experiment be the new chic? It makes a lot more sense to try charging people in a non-metropolitan market with far less competitive news media. So MediaNews' announced pay walls in Chico and York, Pa will be worth watching. MediaNews' Howard Saltz makes this point: "But we are not giving away our premium content for free." The big question for the Chicos, the Yorks and others: What will readers in fact consider premium, and worth paying for? I've long thought that the smaller the paper -- think weekly out in the hinterlands -- the greater chance to get readers to kick in a few bucks extra for online access.
- Is that Awl the news that's left to print? Sometimes a spreadsheet's worth more than a thousand words. Check out The Awl's circ charting, something that you won't see coming out of an industry association. But, take your vertigo pills first. Check out top newspapers -- from the Journal and Times to L.A. Times and Washington Post, and see what conclusions you draw.