Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Newspapers: Turning off the lights

We are about to find out what newspapers are worth.

Beyond their monetary worth as measured by plummeting stock prices of newspaper chains, we are starting to see other evidence of value dribble in as the papers spiral downward.

Two examples:

Today I met with some local Hillsdale business folks who are struggling to market our small commercial center in these hard times. They took a survey of fellow business owners asking about the community, “What brings us together and excites us?”

Nowhere on the list of responses was our community newspaper.

And yet the focus of the marketing effort is designing a full-page ad to be put in — you guessed it — the community newspaper.

I pointed out the irony: without the newspaper, the ad would be worthless. They heard me, but I’m not sure they got the full import of what I was saying.

It's as if I had said, “You know, without air, we’ll all die.” So what else is new?

Well, wait until there are no newspapers and you try to place your ad.

Second example. Up in Longview at The Daily News, the cost-cutting publisher decided to save money by laying off Cathy Zimmerman..

Cathy had been at The Daily News nearly 25 years and just happened to be one of best feature writers and columnists in the Northwest. She has the awards and reader following to prove it.

Oh, and she edited an award-winning features section.

Now her voice has been silenced.

There’s more to the story — most of it about the clueless, disengaged publisher, who was foisted on the paper by corporate owner, Lee newspapers, based in nearby Davenport, Iowa.

The publisher is so isolated from readers, journalism and common courtesy that she didn’t even give Cathy the chance to write a farewell column. Moreover, the paper has written not one word about Cathy’s departure. The editorial page has published not a single letter of protest — and there have been dozens submitted as readers have learned why Cathy's work has vanished from the pages.

Oh, and no one in the newsroom is to mention Cathy’s departure. It’s as if it, and her career, never happened.

As word has spread, some folks — perhaps hundreds — have called in to cancel subscriptions. So much for cost savings. And the cancellations, which prompted an emergency meeting of the circulation department, are another unreported story.

Sadly, these reader revolts don’t usually last. Nor are they well organized. This one needs a list of demands, including the firing of the publisher (a real cost savings) and control from Longview, not Des Moines.

Experience with reader boycotts has shown that, with time, most readers come back. In today's climate there will be newspapers readers until inevitable end. The morbid few will stick around just to witness history in the making — or is it unmaking?

The publisher, no doubt, will remain to turn off the lights.

Will Longviw and surrounding Cowlitz County suffer?

How will anyone know? Will anyone care to know? How will we know whether they care?

Maybe someone will write the answers on the Internet. Maybe.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this entry on your blog--her disappearance from the pages of our "local" paper (and the lack of information about her disappearance) has been ominous.

Cathy is a wonderful writer--I've been reading her articles for many years. I hope some smart publisher snatches her up soon!

4:50 PM  

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