Monday, March 31, 2008

The Daily Bogle

John Bogle is, as Inquirer reporter Harold Brubaker writes, "never one to mince words." The famously contrarian founder of Vanguard Group speaks at length here about the current financial situation. But this quote struck me as applicable in the newspaper business:

"When innovation plays too big a role ... it overwhelms .... stewardship and fiduciary duty. ... The modern mentality is the Adam Smithian way, that investors should just look after their own interests and the system will work."

I have often thought of copy editors as word accountants, the people who make sure that it all adds up in the same way an auditor does. Those who say copy editing no longer is needed because technological innovation has made it redundant are saying, in effect, that innovation holds all the keys; if people just look after what they want to do, it will all be fine. But the checks and balances exist for a reason.

OK, it's a reach, but here's a quote from Bogle that many of us in the newspaper field will have no trouble saluting:

"Wall Street subtracts value from our society."

Copy Editing: The All-Purpose Headline

I hated that our paper ran Art Buchwald's column, because it was his tradition -- perhaps simply as a way of getting an extra day off -- to publish every year the Thanksgiving column that apparently solidified his reputation as a humorist. I didn't find it that funny, but I didn't get Bob and Ray, either. If you've never read the famous story of Kilometres Deboutish, here it is. If you find yourself rolling on the floor, don't tell me.

Our real problem was that every year, we had to write a new headline for the same column. I spent five years as a Features slot and every Thanksgiving, here came le Jour de Merci Donnant again. Whatever clever headlines begged to be written on this story had appeared in the 1960s, in its first, fifth, 10th, whatever incarnations. By now it was stale turkey -- excuse me, dinde. One year I even offered money to the rim if anyone could create a headline that was new and funny. I did not have to pay.

Headline writing offers few challenges on the level of le Grande Thanksgiving -- the annual story on Fourth of July fireworks comes closest -- but even so, most stories are simply variations on a theme. "Man dies in car crash" is the obvious example. But those 2-30-2s are easily kicked out. The problem is that most stories purport to be about something more subtle than that.

One of the more challenging is the always-popular story of a developer planning to build something, anything, near some people who already live there. The developer always comes with photos and charts and is always met by hundreds of angry residents who vehemently oppose his plans, citing increased traffic and congestion, and the negative effect on their quality of life. (If they're not angry and vehement, he may get the plan through in less than a year, once an agreement has been hammered out, which is the only way agreement can be reached, particularly in labor contracts.)

These are usually accompanied by photos of sober-looking residents standing on a wooded knoll mourning the loss of the last significant open space in their community. (Of course, if it is lost, whatever is left will then become the last significant open space.)

Doing these headlines can be a challenge, so I was pleased to see that the Trenton Times recently wrote an A1 headline that we can all simply use by changing the first word, because it really sums up -- which a good headline should do -- what these stories are about:

"City residents fear change could be a bad thing"

There you go. Save it somewhere in your ocmputer and when you're stuck for a headline, just insert this and change "City" to "Township" or "Abilene" or whatever you need. Forget the quality of life and open space and such. "Change could be a bad thing" is an all-purpose headline.

TV Week

A quick hit from Knoxville, where they've decided to try to turn TV Week into, if not a profit center, at least a viable enterprise by charging a quarter extra to get it.

I'm one of those troglodytes who uses TV Week even though I'm under 65. I use it to plan out what I'm going to tape (yes, I still use videotape). On Sunday at 9 p.m. we had two tapes whirring while we watched a third show.

So I'd gladly pay a quarter extra for TV Week. I don't know if I'd pay 75 cents extra for three TV weeks in the newspapers we get at home, but in Knoxville they don't have that problem.

So I think this is a great idea except for this from Editor Jack McElroy: "The problem is - and has been - that TV Week, while essential to many readers, is ignored by many others and does not draw a large number of advertisers. At the same time, the comprehensive listings require lots of pages of newsprint."

Substitute "Sports" for "TV Week" and you have the exact same quote, word for word. Why is it always that everything has to show a profit -- except sports? Is this a leftover from when the "core newspaper" consisted of news, sports and women's news, and as newspaper bookkeeping grew more sophisticated, everything else entered through accounting as an add-on that had to justify its existence? Or is it just -- well, you know, it's sports?

The newspaper, like the department store, needs to have enough departments to bring a critical mass of customers in to support its less profitable lines. The logical outcome of Accounting Determinism to me was always a railroad: If you can make $50,000 moving 500 customers 500 miles or you can make the same amount of money moving one customer 5 miles -- a giant transformer or something -- what business should you be in? Well, the latter, as long as you have enough of those customers. You probably don't, but think of the profits if you did! Think of the profits if you shut down the printing presses and maintained your current level of revenue and customer base! Except you don't.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rock Chalk

This brief sports interlude now ends.

Department Store Building of the Week, No. 2

This building once housed Atlantic City's only real department store, known for most of its career as the M.E. Blatt Co. Bertha and Samuel Braunstein opened a dry goods business on Atlantic Avenue around the turn of the century. At that time, Atlantic City had mostly small dry goods shops and a couple of branches of Philadelphia stores. The Braunsteins expanded rapidly and created the first metropolitan-style store in the resort. Son David Braunstein went into partnership with Max Blatt, who had been in various mercantile enterprises; Blatt quickly purchased the Braunstein interests and moved the store a block and a half east to this building at 1300 Atlantic Ave. at South Carolina Avenue. After Blatt's death, the store was sold to the Philadelphia-based Bankers Securities chain and operated briefly as a branch of N. Snellenberg & Co.; Snellenberg's collapsed in the early 1960s amid a strike and the stores were divided up among another related chain, City Stores' Lit Bros. So this building ended its mercantile career when Lits gave up in the late 1970s. It now houses various governmental offices.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Two New Links

John Duncan has resumed posting at "The Inksniffer." John's blog was the one that made me truly believe that it wasn't all over for us. I am glad to see him back online. As he says: "In order to work in newspapers and believe in them you have to be an optimist."

Also added: A link to Robert Picard's "The Media Business." His March 18 post is saying far better than I can what I have been trying to say, so of course I will try to say something about it later -- but for now, check it out.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Stars in the Hoosier Sky

As promised, here's a look at the content of one of the zone editions to which outgoing Indy Star managing editor Pam Fine attributes an 8 percent growth in print circulation.

First, a digression: Minus the plural, this post's title is the title of a book about his years at the Star by Lawrence "Bo" Connor. A lot of it is very specific to Indianapolis -- the Coliseum explosion, Tony Kiritsis -- but it does give a good look at working for a big-city newspaper in the 1950s and 1960s and how different it was from today. A brief review is here. You can buy it, though with Borders having a hard time I'm not going to mention that you-know-what online bookseller.

Bo Connor went to our church, and so he was appointed adviser to our CYO newspaper, of which I was the editor. I spoke to him once and, being a typical arrogant kid, never spoke to him again, lest he advise me to do something I didn't want to. A couple of years later I found out he was a regular contributor to the National Observer, the Dow Jones weekly that made me actually read a newspaper instead of just looking at it, and I was chagrined that I had not asked him anything, such as, how do I grow up to get a job at the National Observer?

But to move from Bo to the present. My mother sent me three copies of the "North Indy Star" from a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of one week. Don't know if it publishes more days a week than that; it doesn't say, not even with ad rates. This is an oversight.

The circulation area appears to be the North Side of the city and adjacent parts of Washington, Lawrence and Pike Townships, not that that means anything to anyone in Phoenix, but it's not a huge area. A small county in Indiana will have nine to 10 townships, for example. Some of the other regional Stars cover smaller areas -- the one for Fishers I suspect just covers that singularly rapid-growing suburb and school district.

It's a tabloid with a typical Neighbors cover (photo refer, news lede headline, etc.). Here's the typical content from looking across 3 days of papers:

News releases submitted by Parks and Rec., DAR chapter.
Staff or stringer written stories on:

  • The Marion County North Spelling Bee (with list of all participants). Leftover photos ran the next day.
  • Students who go to a school that will be closed: Where will they go next year? Folo story on: Schools welcome new students.
  • Lawrence mayor not to get raise.
  • Dispute over Pike school bus driver termination.
  • Pike rezoning issue
Reader photos
Photo package on Chinese New Year parade at Indian Creek school
Rerun obits from main paper
Pets up for adoption


Feature on Arlington HS wrestler.
News release from SoftballOne.
Wrestling notes by a stringer. HS Boys Basketball six-graf story by a staffer.
Girls Bbl roundup and sectional preview (lots of stories, but this is Indiana and basketball)
Girls Bbl rankings
Girls State Swimming Meet stories
Story by a stringer on North Central swimmers
Lawrence North bowlers win title
Youth Soccer news release on awards
Fencing Club news release on awards

THINGS TO DO (Every issue)

Three Best bets (taking up a huge amount of space)
Calendar (which is half the book)

So in three days of papers, we have four stories that could by a wide estimation be called "hard news" -- the Lawrence mayor's pay, the Pike school bus driver, a Pike annexation, and redistribution of students from a school that will be closed.

The rest is news releases, high school sports, activities, and anything, anything, anything to do with kids in school. Even two of the news stories concern schools. This product is not selling itself on B-front local-government stories. (If they're that good, they're probably on the B front even if they're from Lawrence Township.) The ones in Carmel or Zionsville probably have a different mix because, under Indianapolis' combined government, the older suburbs are part of the city but have their own school districts.

And almost all the stories affect the "old suburbs" -- the Lawrence, North Central, Pike metropolitan school districts. Where my mother lives, on the Near North Side (as opposed to the Far North Side or the Old North Side) of the city, gets short shrift. But she lives in the Indianapolis school district, or IPS as it's known. That would be covered on the B front as well.

The staff list has the names of four reporters, one clerk, and two photographers; but I did see a story by longtime Star reporter Howard Smulevitz in one of the sections, and he was not assigned to it, so some stories that don't make the B section probably find a home here.

So this is Neighbors, but with an approach that strikes me, down to the adopt-a-pet ads, as: Neighbors whose primary target is the family with two children in elementary or high school. Again, there's probably more local government news in the ones outside Marion County. But in the newer suburbs, the family with two children would be even more of a target.

My mother says she never looks at it, and frankly, I can't see a single reason why she should. There is not much in it for an older woman living in the city. But my mother has read the Star her entire life. She's not the target audience. I'm reminder here of the woman in Gerri Berendzen's comment saying: Cover my life!

The next post on this will look at advertising. Classified is particularly interesting.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Small Is Beautiful

Editor & Publisher recently noted that in small-town America, the newspaper business is not nearly so dire. It offered seven ideas for how to connect with readers. Among the questions it got into: What is local news?

Metro newspapers have been trying to deal with this issue -- or avoid dealing with this issue -- for years. Most of us have some experience with the conundrum that local news is not what metro newspapers really want to do.

There's also the question of how local you can be. Metro papers' local zones have often covered entire counties -- partly so they could sell a product on a county-penetration business lining up against the local daily, but also because it reflected a standard newsroom way of thinking -- you start with the courthouse, then the major cities and towns -- based on covering the largest units of government, since they must be the ones that affect the most people.

I live in a town of 20,000 people, and I don't really care about the next town over, even though it's bigger; and I give almost no thought to what the county freeholders do. As John Tompkins of News Media Corp. put it: "Big story counts of hard news -- traffic accidents, fires, crimes, village council news, small-town politicking. 'This is news our readers have to read,' Tompkins says." Why? As Gerri's response to an earlier post said: This is their lives. Because it affects their tax rates and people they know and so they can gossip about it while watching their kids play soccer. So they can make connections with the other people who live where they live. Focus group after focus group told my paper and others this during the heyday of the Neighbors era of metropolitan journalism. But we didn't really want to report it. We didn't live there.

I remember a years-long argument over building a subdivision in a rural and veddy-upscale part of a horsey area. We would run story after story about how the township board was finally prepared to act on the proposal and was expected to vote at its meeting this week. Whereupon 600 foes of the proposal would turn up, and the board would table it yet again, hoping to somehow find a meeting at which only 50 people attended.

It was well-off people who didn't want more cars on their roads and more kids in their schools, fighting a well-off developer who knew the township's reputation would add profit to the house. Some people editing the stories couldn't see the point of the coverage. It didn't address societal inequities or the plight of the underprivileged. It didn't expose corruption or bring about progress. It didn't reveal the hidden miasma at the heart of the suburban dream; it didn't show that the children of the people who lived there used drugs and had sex despite their parents' efforts to inoculate them by moving to the safe suburbs. It was just a stalemate between people with lawyers. Why were we covering it?

Well, because it was the major "issue" in the township and it affected people's sense of control and identity. That's what most local news is. That's why I may want to read about a traffic accident in my township and not care about one a mile farther down in another -- the chance is higher that the one in my township involved someone I know. And then I can say to someone, "Hey, did you see where..."

Back in the 1970s the Hartford Courant was famed for its B-section coverage that consisted of reports from towns all over central Connecticut. As the New York Times reported in 1989, "the new management (Times Mirror) considered such down-home coverage parochial and dropped most of it in favor of a broadly regional approach with features and news that would have universal appeal. There was talk that The Courant wanted to challenge The Boston Globe as the dominant paper of New England." In the late 1980s the Courant was busily engaged in trying to put it all back, but in a more costly manner involving massive replates. The Courant lost touch with what its readers wanted, because it wanted them to want what it wanted to do in order to be seen as a hot-shot newspaper.

Newspapers failed to succeed in the newer suburbs -- the exurbs, if you will -- because they put themselves at odds with their readers, who wanted down-home parochial coverage. It wasn't all they wanted; they wanted major sports coverage and political analysis and all the rest. But journalists didn't want to deliver the down-home. Yes, it also cost a ton of money. But the internal reward system was, do this junk well and then you will never have to do it again. A sure recipe for success.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Department Store Building of the Week

In the center of this image is the triangular building of the Steinbach Co., 555 Cookman Ave., Asbury Park. Jacob and John Steinbach opened a store in Long Branch, which then was the pre-eminent Jersey Shore resort, in the late 1800s. (There's a reason Miss Kitty ran the Long Branch Saloon.) Jacob stayed in Long Branch but John saw that Asbury Park was becoming the business center of the northern Shore and moved there, first to Main Street and then to this location. In the mid-1930s the Steinbachs, who had invested heavily in the Berkeley-Carteret Hotel, brought S.S. Kresge into the business (Kresge was putting together a chain of department stores as well as his 5 and 10s) but by the end of World War II it was back in the hands of Walter Steinbach, who eventually sold it to the Goerkes of Elizabeth. The Goerke-Steinbach stores were brought together with the Howland store in Bridgeport, Conn., and the Genung's stores in Westchester County, N.Y., as a regional chain operated by Supermarkets General Corp. under the names Steinbach and Howland. The Steinbach building was rehabilitated last year after sitting idle for years, as part of the effort to revive Asbury Park.

In this case a department store and newspaper are almost literally joined at the hip. That's the old building of the Asbury Park Press two buildings to the left on Mattison Street.

One thing I love about the Steinbach building is that John Steinbach was not a humble man. Above the main entrance the name "Steinbach Company" did not appear, simply the name "John Steinbach."

The building with the white back wall in the lower left was a smaller department store, Tepper Bros., started in the 1930s by Jacob Tepper, a member of the Tepper family that owned the main department store in Plainfield. He had opened a Tepper store in Fort Wayne, Ind., but, failing in that, returned to New Jersey and eventually purchased the LeMaistre store, which had started as a lace shop. I assume it was related to the turn-of-the-century LeMaistre store in Manhattan.

For those who don't know New Jersey's weird home-rule geography, Asbury Park may have had only 15,000 people but was the downtown for a population four or five times that, with Deal, Allenhurst, Bradley Beach, Ocean Grove, Sea Girt, etc., etc., all being independent adjoining towns. Like most communities of that size, it had enough business for one big department store but not two.

I hope to post a new department store photo each week.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Cosmopolitan, On the Rocks, Please

I was one of those college students who had a different major every year -- which is why I work for a newspaper but have a degree from the College of Architecture and Planning -- and one of the flavors of the year was sociology. And one concept that made a great impact on me during my sociology studies was locals vs. cosmopolitans.

I don't remember it exactly, but this summation from a research paper seems to be right:
"The distinction between cosmopolitans and locals draws from sociological theories of
role orientations that are rooted in Merton’s (1957) distinction between types of influentials. In his work, locals were individuals whose interests were confined to the community in which they exerted influence, and cosmopolitans were individuals who were oriented to the world beyond the community in which they exerted influence and regarded themselves as part of that wider world."

If memory serves, the reason this made such an impact on me was that I considered myself to be a cosmopolitan, but the rule of thumb was that 80 percent of a population were locals. So I was doomed to spend my life among rubes, but of course, as an undergraduate in Indiana, I already thought that before hearing of Merton's distinction between types of influentials.

(The 80-20 proportion was already ingrained in me through advertising for Farm Bureau Insurance and its "Thrifty McBip" 80-20 collision coverage. My father worked for the Farm Bureau Co-op and so my car was insured by the Farm Bureau; and anyway, Thrifty McBip, advertised with a drawing of a stock-company Scotsman, was another name to remember.)

At any rate, if you were running a department store in the 1960s, you had stuff to appeal to locals and stuff to appeal to cosmopolitans. For the rich and stylish you had, if you were Ayres', the Meridian Room, which brought Paris fashions to the heart of the Midwest; you also had the basement store. You had Herman Miller furniture and Thomasville furniture, probably in those 20-80 proportions.

Bloomingdale's became the store of the 1970s by appealing to the cosmopolitan population of New York -- indeed it abandoned its previous local orientation to go after this new audience. In Manhattan, perhaps 80-20 didn't apply; perhaps the 20 percent was simply so large as to constitute a real market; perhaps locals were simply more cosmopolitan. Bloomies went after its cosmo population and it paid off; other stores oriented themselves toward it and found their "local" customers leaving and not enough "cosmo" customers to make up for it. (See earlier post on Bloomingdale's.)

The problem is that a business with a mass customer base (and the associated cost structure) has to take the customers it can get and not just the ones it wants. If I run an art gallery and decide that Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light, is not truly art, I can go after the customers I want, and I and the two people who work for me will find out if they are going to come to our location in a trendy-yet-lower-rent neighborhood on the edge of a Boho zone. If I run a mall art-gallery chain, I had better decide that Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light, belongs in my gallery, if not the National Gallery as well. Because my customers are apt to see him as -- well, I was going to say as the latter-day John Singer Sargent, but that just confirms me as a cosmopolitan. They're going to want to put on their walls that cute little mill scene with the lighting that looks like Jesus is coming for a visit. Because Kinkade clearly has a high level of artistic skill. It's not Elvis on black velvet. It's just not Art. (Or Aaaahhhhhht.)

What brings all this to mind is the Indianapolis Star's recent success in print with zoned neighborhood sections (as mentioned in this post) as juxtaposed with this column by John Dvorak in PC Magazine that attempts once again to tell us why our business is failing.
John, who has written for my newspaper and who is the same age as I am and who therefore is a wonderful fellow, is clearly a cosmopolitan, as his Wikipedia page shows. (Never trust Wikipedia, but you can't live without it.) What interested me is on the second page of his column, where he says:

"I am not going to buy the San Francisco Chronicle because it has the sports scores of the local grammar-school intramural girl's soccer games. I would buy it, however, for an exclusive article detailing life within the Green Zone of Baghdad , with photos shot by a National Geographic photographer, accompanied by an article penned by Carl Hiaasen." (Links his.)

Pam Fine's column indicates that eight percent of readers in Indianapolis turned to the Star in print because it has, in effect, the local grammar-school intramural girl's soccer games. (I will get around to the content of the local Stars soon.)

Somehow in the 1980s we became locked into this cosmopolitan-vs.-local dichotomy, probably in part out of the need of journalists to show, starting during the turbulent and heady times of the 1970s, that they were not locals. Before the Kennedy administration, we believed everyone in the United States was a local. And anyone who has asked a reporter graduating from one of the top journalism schools to spend an extended period covering Lower East Amwell Township knows this problem. Heck, that was me in 1975.

But sociology would indicate to us that 80 percent of our readers may be locals. Perhaps more in Fort Dodge. Cheap shot. I'm a cosmopolitan! What can I do?

L.S. Ayres used to have both the basement store and the Meridian Room. Can it be done in the 2000s? Or are cosmopolitans now so cosmopolitan that they will never sully themselves with locals?

And if that is the case -- in an eaa where the cosmopolitan reader can dine at an endless table of offerings from around the world -- are we by trying to relate to those customers who are like us but who cannot support us as a business model, dependent as we are on a pipeline into the local reader's home to supply certain advertising and types of content?

Carl Hiassen has a solid fan base for what he does; is Carl Hiassen on Iraq sort of like Thomas Kinkade trying to encapsulate the vision of "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon"? If I'm selling, is anyone buying? Newspapers may simply be a business for locals.

But to end with words of Dvorak's that we can not only salute, we can stand up and cheer, and perhaps pay for him to sit for a portrait by Kinkade:
"Publishers do know that their publication is their product, right? And they do know that if it's losing circulation, the key to reversing the trend is not to make it worse—right? How does making a product worse fix a problem? ... I mean, there are ways of saving money and cutting costs other than cutting staff and hanging on for dear life."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Let It Grow

The Jayhawk-bound managing editor mentioned in a previous post wrote on Feb. 10, in a column that has gone behind the paid wall, about the circulation successes of the Indianapolis Star.

"In just 18 months since our last research, The Star has added 115,000 readers during the course of a week for the daily and Sunday newspapers. This growth means that we now reach 72 percent of all adults 18 years and older, or 849,900 people in the eight-county Central Indiana market each week -- and we reach each of them 4.2 times per week. That figure was 64 percent 18 months ago. When we add in our Web site..." and then she does, and it goes up by 10 percent.

So Pam Fine asks the question: "But how did The Star grow readership of our print newspaper in the face of industry conditions that in many cases show the opposite trend? We listened to our readers and made changes to our newspaper based on what you told us. The main change? Much more local news. We added the Carmel Star, Fishers Star, Greenwood Star, Zionsville Star, Hendricks County Star, West Indy Star, East Indy Star, North Indy Star and Westfield Star."

Well, they've got the Internet in Carmel, Fishers, Greenwood, Zionsville, Hendricks County, Westfield and the city of Indianapolis. And in Sioux City, where the editor recently crowed about growth both in print and online there.

As noted in a previous post, it's a lot easier to do this sort of stuff in the Midwest. Costs are lower, competition is less, metro newspapers have higher penetration to begin with and thus a stronger hold on inserts, and the core urban area just keeps expanding out into endless farmland instead of running into cities with their own media markets. (Although Indianapolis is now completely surrounded by a ring of suburban dailies -- in Lebanon, Noblesville, Greenfield, Shelbyville, Franklin, Martinsville and Plainfield.) So they're going to have to bear some of the research and development costs for deciding what works while those of us on the coasts batten down the hatches.

But so, the answer for the Star is -- Neighbors. What we've been told is the answer for 25 years, and what we've all concluded doesn't work. Revenue can't justify expense, etc. Well, at least this year, it works for the Indianapolis Star. My correspondent in Indianapolis, also known as my mother, sent me some copies of her Neighbors zone, and in a forthcoming post we'll look at what's in them.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Copy Editing: The Post's Changes

I'd be more inclined to see the changes announced Friday in A-section editing at the Washington Post to be a realistic assessment of a smaller, 24/7 newsroom if I didn't hear Glen Campbell singing "Wichita Lineman" in the back of my head.

It was back during the last giant U.S. economic collapse -- the one in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in which many newspapers that had had a decade of unchecked stability or growth in staffing confronted for the first time the reality of investors: We don't care that your business is cyclical and tanked, they said. Give us growth in earnings every quarter. Newspapers had already reaped the savings from getting rid of the composing room. Now they had to cut elsewhere. They started looking at that notorious cost center, the newsroom, and that notorious cost center in the newsroom, the copy and news desks.

(Remember, this is before the Internet.)

Some newspapers just whittled here and there, but others devised what they saw as progressive and systematic responses. The copy desk no longer had the responsibility of feeding type in slugs to the Linotype operators, right? Why spend all that time on an assembly-line production system? Besides, we need feet on the street.

And so emerged ideas like the Maestro concept and "blowing up the copy desk," an exercise in which a number of Knight Ridder papers engaged.

The idea seemed good. Have a copy editor assigned to each section to work on the centerpieces and main stories during the day. They'd be part of the team, working with the reporter and editors and photographers. By working with them, they'd do the most justice to the story and photos. There wouldn't be late tinkering by some cantankerous copy editor bent on spoiling the flow of the story by changing all the "says"es to "said"s or arguing that "Although statistics are hard to come by, it seems apparent that more and more people..." isn't solid enough to state that something is true.

And by doing the editing earlier in the cycle, fewer people would be needed, because you wouldn't have the big bulge in the snake's belly before deadline.

(Remember, this is before the Internet.)

Well, most of us who were around then saw what happened. One of the biggest management problems you face on the copy desk is that the hours and days off suck. Lots of talented people don't want your jobs because they don't want to be at work at midnight on Friday. So a number of copy editors flew to these positions. Nothing bad about that. But they found that much of the day went into thinking about the centerpiece and an off-lede -- the only stories that were actually done during the day and the ones that the top editors would pay the most attention to. They found that they liked to pay the most attention to these stories as well.

The rest of the copy -- most of it -- fell on the curmudgeons or politically inept types or people with unusual child-care issues who remained on the "night production team," who were now completely overwhelmed by the big bulge in the snake's belly before deadline.

Meanwhile, some copy editors found that as part of the dayside team, they weren't supposed to ask the snarky, "this doesn't make any sense" questions copy editors ask. Their job was no longer to hold up a hand and say, "Before this goes into print, you've got to deal with this." Wasn't it better with everyone on the same wavelength? And there were more feet on the street -- or at least, the reduction in feet on the street wasn't as big as it might have been. And there was earnings growth.

I remember being in Kansas in the mid-1990s when the Wichita Eagle had blown up the copy desk. I was on vacation, but when I would say I worked for a newspaper, people could not shut up. They were so mad at the Wichita Eagle. Headlines were misspelled or wrong. Names of important people were wrong. Addresses were wrong. Stories ended in midair. Recipes lacked ingredients. Captions were wrong. Stories were illiterate. The few curmudgeons left at night were having to edit most of the paper while the day staff worked to craft the centerpiece. A paper that had been a source of pride to Wichita was now viewed by many in the community as quite the opposite. Apologies to anyone at the Eagle who remembers it differently; I admittedly wasn't there.

None of this blowing up the desks happened because we needed to publish electronically.

After enough years had passed, the Wichita Beacon re-established a copy desk. The rest of Knight Ridder also stopped blowing up copy desks; indeed, the company went 360 and started to strengthen them. The Maestro stopped conducting. Then came 2001, and then Help Wanted went on the long walkabout from which it will not return.

Now comes the Washington Post, whose managing editor says: It's time to put the safety net away. Jack Shafer notes: "He's confident that reduced editing won't necessarily sacrifice quality if it's done smartly. As an example, he points to the quality work done by reporters whose copy appears on the Post's Web site without the extensive editing and re-editing traditionally lavished on the print product. 'The more people who touch a story, the less authority and responsibility each take,' (Phil) Bennett says."

Further: "The plan also mandates 'fewer touches' on some stories by editors, which will elicit cheers from many Post reporters. They've long complained about 'drive-by editing' in which editors up and down the chain of command drop into their stories and fiddle with them to the point of destruction. According to the memo, a half-dozen editors routinely make changes on A-section stories, and an internal audit discovered one inside story that 12 different editors changed."

In praising the decision, Shafer notes the editing process at major magazines and compares it poorly to that of Slate: "I think it more than makes up for (the lack of magazine-style editing and copy editing) in timeliness with a Webby approach that gives maximum control to writers."

Clearly Shafer's sympathies do not lie with editors. Well, these are hard times and hard choices need to be made. But I suspect the managing editor of the Washington Post may drop into their stories and fiddle with them. I suspect the national and foreign editor will as well. A rim editor apparently won't.

Because, what were those changes by 12 different editors? Just fiddling with an adjective or making sure it was "Juan D. Peron"? Making a nicely written sentence worse because someone had a hangup about ending it with "to"? Or was it someone who was looking at the story and noticed that the date was wrong or that Dubai is not the capital of the UAE or Dmitri Medvedev was spelled Dimitri? Or even changing "most Luxembourgians" to "many Luxembourgians" unless the reporter had done a statistical poll of Luxembourg? We don't know. Statistics are hard to come by, although it seems clear that more and more...

Yeah, I know what Shafer means. I just spent almost an hour writing this and going over it five or six times. I like my voice too. But just for fun there are two common mistakes in it. They're ones that I made at first and then decided to leave in. Did you see them? They're in the same graph. Any one editor might catch them. Or not. And I suspect there are other errors that I simply missed.

I hope for the best for the Post. One does look for a way out of this meltdown, and with the global audience and reporting staff of the Post they operate in a different room than most of us do. But at the moment, I remain a lineman for the county, and I drive the main roads, searching in the sun for another overload.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dillard's Days

As mentioned earlier, Dillard's is the major department store chain that operates in half the country that the other half of the country has never heard of. It doesn't have stores in the biggest media markets, having expanded out of the southeast by picking up some grand old stores, among them Stix, Baer & Fuller in St. Louis and The Higbee Co. in Cleveland, and then reeling in the Mercantile chain, which included a lot of small-city stores such as the Root Store in Terre Haute, which I remember well.

The story of Dillard's is interesting. When I first became interested in department stores in the 1960s, I first heard of Dillard's as "Dillard's Brown-Dunkin" in Tulsa. That was a name to remember, as was its main competitor, Vandever's. (The site Lost Tulsa doesn't have anything to do with Vandever's or Brown-Dunkin, but it does mention a local competitor, Froug's. Something about those Tulsa names.) Then I saw that Pfeifer-Blass in Little Rock had essentially the same logo and put together that it must be run by Dillard's as well. And that was the last I heard of Dillard's for some time.

As it turns out, at that point there wasn't much more about Dillard's to tell. It could have remained a small-city chain in the Southwest. What I didn't know about Dillard's was how new it was at that point, having been started in the 1930s. Most department stores in the 1960s were 60 to 70 years old, and thus the founder was out of the picture and oftentimes the founder's children as well. The stores were into that dread Third Generation -- where many of the heirs don't want to run the family business but want the money, while locally the business is seen as an institution whose owners don't care about it as much as its customers do. Dillard's was fresh and was run by a man who wanted to own a big department store chain. And he succeeded.

What most interests me is how the story turns from a human story to a financial one. The early tale is of the buccaneering Bill Dillard. who, having come from a tiny Arkansas town and gone to Columbia, buys little stores in places like Magnolia and experiments with his product line -- do we sell appliances? do we offer Green Stamps? It's a human-scale world, one that the general shopper (or general newspaper reporter) would feel comfortable talking or writing about. By the end of the story, it's about "cutting operating costs, interest expense, and average gross margin. The company also divested itself of some of its non-core operations." (Yeah, sounds like newspapers again.) We're into the realm of the specialist and the investor. It's inevitable with growth, but it reminds of the statement about Knight Ridder: The last decision Knight Ridder made was the one to be listed on the NYSE in the 1970s. After that, analysts and investors made all the decisions for Knight Ridder.

So much of our thinking about institutions like newspapers and department stores gets caught in the space between business realism and sentiment. Sometimes the only way the stories connect is that vague business notation called "goodwill," the intangible value of the fact that people like and care about your product. Just looking at the numbers tells a simple story. But ignoring or dismissing customer sentiment and just focusing on the bottom line can bring a backlash that is worse than simply trying to adjust to it, irrational and costly though it may be.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dreams From My Mother, Redux

So my mother calls to report that: (1) the editor's column did not appear again, but there was a sickbox; and (2) most of the pet feature returned. The power of the blogosphere!

Meanwhile, the managing editor, who lives a couple of blocks from my mother, quits to join the faculty at my favorite journalism school I didn't attend. Rock chalk, Jayhawk!

Just for the record.

Copy Editing: Wiki World

As a copy editor, I find myself torn on Wikipedia. I emphasize again and again that it cannot be trusted, going back to when I found the old New York Herald Tribune described on Wikipedia as a "Canadian farm implement." And yet if you are trying to determine the name of the father of Ima Hogg, there is no quicker way when you are sitting at your computer. Wikipedia can't be trusted, but you have to use it if only to find out what not to trust it on.

In the March 20 issue of the New York Review of Books, the author Nicholson Baker reviewed "Wikipedia: The Missing Manual" by John Broughton. It's a wonderfully written piece, with phrases such as:

"It asked for help, and when it did, it used a particularly affecting word: 'stub.' At the bottom of a short article about something, it would say, 'This article about X is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.' And you'd think: That poor sad stub: I will help. Not right now, because I'm writing a book, but someday, yes, I will try to help."

(Segue: In this article he also states, in the most lucid manner I have seen, the essential pull of the Web, and why it interferes with what we used to call the newspaper "habit": "All big Internet successes—e-mail, AOL chat, Facebook, Gawker, Second Life, YouTube, Daily Kos, World of Warcraft—have a more or less addictive component—they hook you because they are solitary ways to be social: you keep checking in, peeking in, as you would to some noisy party going on downstairs in a house while you're trying to sleep." -- It's not that anything is really happening, you know, but it might. Sort of what a blog author hopes for.)

In any event, the point of the book, and the article, is how to be a better Wikipedian -- how to make sure your entry, your contributions, make it through what is seen as an increasingly hard filter. This is also, therefore, how to game Wikipedia, but whatever. It's a fascinating article and for copy editors, who often see little alternative on deadline to a quick Wiki check, almost like a look inside how the New York Times Best-Sellers List really is crafted.

But after reading the article I was left with this feeling: The best way to use Wikipedia is to already know the answer, or most of it. If you are reading something about Indianapolis and it says it was founded in the early 19th century, and you go to Wikipedia and find that its site was selected in 1820 and the capital was moved from Corydon in 1825, well, you still don't know the right answer -- which is was that it was founded in 1821. But if you think you knew it was founded in 1821, and you just wanted to double-check, you can say, OK, it was founded in the 1820s, I'm probably right. If you didn't think you knew it was founded in 1821 you might say from Wikipedia that it was founded in 1820, which is close, but, also, wrong. (I don't have some weird thing about city foundings; my family has lived in Indianapolis since the 1830s, so we almost have an institutional memory of the surveyor putting down stakes.)

If you know where you're going, Wikipedia can help you get there even by putting up something you know is wrong. Beyond that, you're on faith, and Wikipedia should not be your god.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Thing About California

As we all know by now, the epicenter for the newspaper disaster is the San Francisco Bay area. The unprofitable Chron. The near-collapse of the Mercury News. (Some recent postings on that here and here.) The cutbacks in publication frequency in nearby Tracy and Gilroy.

And, because the Bay area is also the epicenter of what has happened in computing in the last 30 years, at least, the two are tied together. Craigslist. Mercury Center. Hot Coco. Cole Papers. People in San Francisco and San Jose were seeing the potential change brought about by the computer industry years before everyone else, because it was the center of the computer industry -- people at newspapers were writing about it, and newspaper people who were interested in computers were attracted to the area.

And that is all true. But it's too facile to simply say, one, therefore the other, simple explanation, cause, effect. There are other things to take into account.

California, particularly its major metro areas, is a costly place to do business. In 2005, California had the fourth highest cost of doing business in the country, and we can assume it hasn't gotten better. That's the whole state, and California has a huge variation between inland markets such as Bakersfield, Fresno and Redding -- even Sacramento -- and the coast. (New York state obviously has the same situation.) California has the highest gasoline costs in the country, and San Francisco has the highest gasoline costs of the nation's big cities.

And we all know about housing prices in the Bay area, particularly in San Jose-Palo Alto, which have been among the nation's most costly for years. This means as an employer that you have to pay people in a national job market enough to be competitive, and as a business that people have less money left over to spend on your products after spending a huge chunk on housing.

To be able to afford housing, many people have to live way far away from their jobs. I remember reading about the start of commuter rail service from Stockton to the Bay area. That takes two hours each way. Just planning to driving in from Tracy, a hour and a half by rail? Estimate it to take two hours. Now, people have long commutes in New York and L.A. also. People generally do not do this sort of thing in Detroit or St. Louis or Kansas City. The more time spent in commuting, the less time there is to read a paper, unless you're commuting by rail. (And that paper had better be there early.)

So these create a challenging market for a newspaper -- a lot more so than in Memphis or Tulsa. Now let's look at the physical nature of the market, and to do so let's go back before Dean Singleton ended up owning everything other than the Chron.

First off, there's always been a unity to the Bay market. In 1965, Macy's in San Francisco -- Macy's has been there long before the recent Macyization -- had branches in Santa Rosa, San Rafael, Santa Clara (San Jose). These were not stores in outlying towns in the way that Thalheimers in Richmond owned stores in Durham and Greensboro, N.C.; they were just suburban branches of the San Francisco store. The Bay area was an area, the same as Chicagoland or greater Philadelphia or metropolitan Atlanta. It was metropolitan San Francisco.

So let's ride around the Bay and count daily newspapers in, oh, the early 1980s. Start in San Francisco and drive south. You pass the posh suburbs of Burlingame and Hillsborough and it's 20 miles until you hit the first paper, the San Mateo Times. Then it's five miles to another daily, in Redwood City -- which at this point in the 1980s has just recently been merged with the Palo Alto daily seven miles away, in what proved to be a disastrous move by Tribune Co. From downtown Palo Alto it's 13 miles to San Jose.

Now let's go up the other side. San Jose to the Fremont Argus, 10 miles. Fremont to the Hayward Review, 10 more. (These are admittedly sister papers.) Hayward to downtown Oakland and the Tribune, 16 miles. Oh, and 12 miles to the east is Pleasanton, with a daily paper engaged in a newspaper war with a paper in Livermore, six or seven miles away.

From Oakland to Walnut Creek, home of the Contra Costa Times with more than 100,000 circulation, is 15 miles. Dailies are hanging on by the skin of their teeth in Alameda, Berkeley and Richmond, all within five to 10 miles from Oakland. (Soon all will be gone or be zone editions.) It's about 13 miles from Richmond to Vallejo, which has its own paper, and four miles from Vallejo to Benicia, which has another. And 10 miles from Richmond in a different direction we're in San Rafael and the Independent Journal.

So we've covered about 110 miles in a circle, and had a couple outsprouts of 10 miles, and in there we've gotten two San Francisco dailies, the Oakland Tribune and 13 other daily papers. (And there were still more suburban daily papers in metropolitan San Francisco. We just haven't come upon them yet.) OK, you say, from Philadelphia to Harrisburg on the turnpike I would go from Philadelphia to Norristown to near Phoenixville to north of West Chester to Lancaster to south of Lebanon to Harrisburg. There are some papers there. What's your point?

Well, first of all I would be in Harrisburg instead of back in San Francisco. But look at a map. The Bay area papers are all pinched between the bay and the mountains, or caught between mountain ranges. They had almost nowhere to go. They ended up fighting each other over the same territory, whereas the Harrisburg and Lancaster papers just snipe at each other at the edges of their markets. The only way they could compete in the Bay area was to try to out-local each other, which is very costly. So the Contra Costa Times did a separate nameplate in the growing, rich suburbs of Danville and San Ramon -- the latter about 10 miles from its main office. But it had to do so to compete with the Pleasanton paper, which is five miles from San Ramon.

Second, a lot of them are in the same county. When a buyer for Sears or Penney's looks at the market Kansas City market she sees the Kansas City Star offering, oh, 70 percent penetration of Johnson County. Here she sees this paper with 25 percent and this paper with 10 percent and this paper with 8 percent. If she's not locally rooted, she doesn't say, well, this paper has 100 percent of the market between X Road and Y Road. She buys the major metro and the one with 25 percent and the rest go begging.

In the 1980s everyone's competing for pieces of this oddball market. The Chron and the Examiner want to dominate it; the other papers want their little pieces. And San Jose, down at the far end, sees itself growing into a major city and its newspaper wants to be a big city's newspaper.

But San Jose can only grow so far before it runs into the bay, or the mountains, or people who think they're living in San Francisco, or the East Bay, or Santa Cruz, or Watsonville, or whatever. Why would they read a San Jose paper? And people commuting from Stockton are driving through the circulation areas of five other daily newspapers before they even get to San Jose.

Something had to give, which is how we got Alameda Newspaper Group, which then expanded into the Oakland Tribune, and now has wound up owning every newspaper in the area. (OK, Dan, nearly every.) If this had been Long Island, you would have had Newsday. Dean Singleton has taken the approach of trying to preserve local nameplates on increasingly identical products. Given how Tribune Co. threw away the Palo Alto market in the 1980s by thinking that one paper would appeal to Palo Alto and Redwood City, Dean's approach has a lot to recommend it. But to journalists who note five or six nameplates without five or six reporters at county commissioners' meetings, this is awful. To the reader in San Leandro or Milpitas who was only getting one paper anyway, it may not look as dire. (The absence of people covering San Leandro or Milpitas, of course, does.)

The San Jose Mercury News had a core area of Santa Clara County and a good bit of San Mateo County. It couldn't grow into rapidly expanding but largely vacant suburban areas like those around Omaha and Indianapolis; it kept running into other newspapers, or water, or mountains. Its suburban growth was largely in areas that were some other paper's market already or just its own county getting more and more built up.

Now, it wasn't all bad; the home county kept growing, too. But as Gary Pruitt noted when McClatchy bought Knight Ridder, it wasn't growing that fast. And it's really, really expensive to live there, which is partly why it wasn't growing that fast.

So the San Jose Mercury News was in a high-cost market with lesser possibilities for growth, hemmed in by geography and a full range of suburban competitors, with lengthy commutes and with the market effectively a sub-market of a larger city. Oh, and a big part of the market was reading a group of free newspapers based in Palo Alto.

Certainly Craigslist didn't help this situation. Knight Ridder's late-in-life disarray didn't help. Dean Singleton's debt burden is crushing. The Internet pulls away readers. The Mercury News may become simply a small suburban paper that had a brief moment of glory, the Brooklyn Eagle of our times. This would be a shame. I've known many wonderful people from the Merc. But perhaps San Jose really is just a bigger Fremont or Hayward, in the end just another town down the Bay. I have no idea.

But the San Francisco area is not identical to the situation faced by most American newspapers. And the reason is not just that people use the computer a lot in San Francisco. That's the standard view, as seen here. And it's not that that view is all wrong. But there's more to the story.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Red Tops and Title Bars

There's just something about the British way of phrasing things. as this story about online newspaper site trends in the UK shows:

"As much as the results will provide some comfort to newspaper executives watching their print sales ebb away, they also present a challenge to news organisations now publishing to a global audience."

The Daily Mail in particular has skyrocketed. Why?

"Mail Online's dramatic traffic increase has intrigued the rest of the industry, who have watched its unique user figures accelerate since it started publishing its results through ABCe in August last year. The site's entertainment-led stories and celebrity picture galleries are driving much of the growth. Stories on the decline and occasional rise of Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears, along with the death of Heath Ledger, were big hitters, alongside the rest of the Mail's core Femail stories on Kate Moss, dieting and makeovers."

("The decline and occasional rise." This is why we have to have British writers. Americans would have to offer the hope of redemption.)

And: "Of the Mail's online audience, a staggering 72.3% - or 12.9 million users - are outside the UK. Those of both Sun Online and Times Online are around 62%, with the Guardian and Telegraph around 56%."

So if I were a rep going to the High Street stores for the Daily Mail, dropping in on Boots the Chemist and Dixons and House of Fraser, and trying to sell them on how online advertising is superior to print because my ad is targeted and I am not wasting my money on people who are not interested in what I am showing, I have a challenging and possibly unremunerative task facing me. I guess I would fall back on "billions of page views!" and "the sun never sets on the British media!" and hope the advertiser did not ask too many questions.

Now admittedly, the Red Tops and the qualities have never emphasized local advertising; they are distributed nationally and their ads are national, although stores like Dixons, which is the U.K. equivalent of Circuit City, advertise in all of them, and department stores such as Debenhams and John Lewis support the quality papers.

It's simply hard to see how they easily monetize this. It "presents a challenge."

Celebrity news works better online because it is international and because it's timely gossip and because it usually involves video. It's just hard to think that online revenue is going to be the one magic answer that bails the national British press out of this problem. But if it does prove to be -- if the Daily Mail can raise enough money from advertising Entertainment Weekly to U.S. users and package vacations to Hollywood for international tourists and Marry a Woman Who Looks Like Shulpa Shetty sites -- then Boots and Dixons are looking for a vehicle that will effectively carry their message, which still looks a lot like one we know how to publish.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dreams From My Mother

So my mother called yesterday to complain about her hometown newspaper.

My mother is a newspaper lover. Gets two delivered daily. When I was growing up, we had three dailies in town, and we got all three.

Sometimes she's been irritated at the Sole Suriving Paper, sometimes mildly amused. This was the first time she'd been really angry.

Why, what evil have they done?

Well, they shrunk the web width to 44 inches. That creates a newspaper that looks like a narrow storm door, but that was just an irritation.

But shrinking the web width meant that the comics were narrower and the TV book data was smaller, making it hard for older readers to read. (Not herself, my mother pointed out repeatedly. Other older readers. Not her.)

But these were mere provocations. What did they really do?

Apparently they ran a half-page of pet-related classifieds each week, and to fill the space above them with friendly copy, they had people send in their pet photos, which ran along with humorous captions -- pet thought balloons. This had been replaced by a boring feature from a syndicated veterinarian.

OK, everyone laugh together and say, "Core mission," "We have to make hard decisions" and "Cheapened the paper anyway." You can even laugh at my mother.

But the other thing was that the editor of the paper writes a column every week explaining why the paper makes the decisions it does, and what readers have to say about them, and, as she puts it, "he spends all his time apologizing." The week before he had heralded the changes with great positiveness. This week, no column and no explanation for its absence.

I tried to explain how it could be that he was coincidentally on vacation and that when they re-formatted the pages for a narrower web they forgot to format the sickbox, as we call it, onto the page and so the layout editor just forgot to note the column's absence without a visual cue. So she agreed to give it another week before she called and berated them.

So in addition to pets, what my mother was really angry about was that they appeared to take away a column about -- journalism. And also because: "He seems like such a nice man."
But, I said, all the other stuff is in the paper still, right? The news and the sports and stuff. Oh yeah, she said, and I look at it, I read it. But I don't care about it. This is stuff I care about.

Journalism is important, but journalism is abstract. The little things make the emotional connection that bonds a reader and a newspaper. Journalists have a couple of emotional connections anyway. It's our newspaper, and we love journalism, and we really, really care about issues like urban planning or politics. Blessedly some of our readers are like us. But not as many as we wish. Some are like a woman nearing 80 who takes two newspapers a day, has her TV turned to news channels much of the time, listens to Springsteen, goes to movies like "No Country for Old Men" because they're smart and not sappy, and yet gets really, really angry if the newspaper takes away her cute pet photos. Stop the description at "sappy" and she sounds like us. Throw in the pet column and she becomes one of those people who don't understand our holy mission.

I was going to move on to other topics for a while other than "the customer is not us," but you know, sometimes you have to do things for your mother.

Regional Department Store Chains

Good work by Anonymous and my colleague Gerri Berendzen in responding on regional department store chains.

Dillard's is huge in the Midwest and South, and unknown elsewhere. Belk's, which began in North Carolina a century ago, remains strong in the Southeast.

The Bon-Ton out of York, Pa., and its affiliated stores such as Carson's operate in much of the Great Lakes market. Gottschalk's from Fresno, Calif., still has a toehold in central California. Herb Kohl, later to serve in Congress, started a chain in Milwaukee that may be approaching national status.

And no one from Pennsylvania mentioned Boscov's, a store that has not only held onto its core market but developed new ones by honing in strictly on the middle-class customer.

Admittedly this is not a growing list. The Southwest-based Dunlap's chain recently fell apart. But there are tales to be told of how it can be done right, not just tales of inevitable doom.

More on Dillard's to come.

Monday, March 3, 2008

L.S. Macy's & Co.

Macy's apparently has failed at marketing itself as a store with one big national market, and is trying to be more regional -- in part because the people who shopped at Macy's when it was Macy's were used to Macy's, but the people who shopped at L.S. Ayres or Famous-Barr were used to a different type of store and seem to want it back. In many of the markets that were Macyized, there was Macy's and there was a May Co. or Federated store and each had its customers; now, there is only Macy's.

Here's a conundrum that newspapers and department stores share: To succeed with newer customers and be attractive to them, one has to change to reflect their preferences. But doing so means irritating your long-time customers. You can't just depend on your long-time customers, because they will die off. But you have to find the customers you can get and not just look for the customers you want. (See Bloomingdale's.)

Macy's tried to find the customers it wanted. But as an official now notes: "Some stores sell more size 12s than other stores. Some colors appeal to certain stores' shoppers more than others. We want to get the mix just right." (There are lots of ways to read that, but one way is: "Some of our stores' customers aren't as sophisticated or trendy as we wanted all of our customers to be." And he adds, sotto voce: "Or thin.")

The article also notes: "It is clear from all that we know that the greater you can match merchandise to local customers' tastes, the better off you are," said Richard Feinberg, a retail professor at Purdue University.

Give the lady what she wants!

Give the reader what she wants!

Primary Sources

We'll come back to department stores, and particularly question No. 3. But first, to a poll by Zogby attention must be paid.

The headline on the poll is that "67% View Traditional Journalism as 'Out of Touch.'" But stop the presses: "Nearly half of respondents (48%) said their primary source of news and information is the Internet, an increase from 40% who said the same a year ago. Younger adults were most likely to name the Internet as their top source - 55% of those age 18 to 29 say they get most of their news and information online, compared to 35% of those age 65 and older."

Let's kill all the newspapers! But wait:

"These oldest adults are the only age group to favor a primary news source other than the Internet, with 38% of these seniors who said they get most of their news from television. Overall, 29% said television is their main source of news, while fewer said they turn to radio (11%) and newspapers (10%) for most of their news and information. Just 7% of those age 18 to 29 said they get most of their news from newspapers, while more than twice as many (17%) of those age 65 and older list newspapers as their top source of news and information."

That's right, among print newspapers' most loyal demographic -- 65 and older, where by many estimates more than half among the cohort subscribes to a newspaper -- only 17 percent said newspapers were their top source of news and information.

And the difference between the general response (10 percent) and the young-adult response (7 percent) was three percentage points -- and remember that young adults have always been the group least interested in printed newspapers.

So there are many conclusions that could be drawn from this, depending upon how one wants to view it:

1. Printed newspapers are already so irrelevant that even retirees don't depend on them.
2. Because the percentage of young adults who say newspapers are their prime news source is 10 percentage points below that of senior citizens, newspapers are not only irrelevant, but already dead.
3. Or perhaps -- it indicates that newspapers are read and valued even though they are not the primary news source. For it would appear by comparing this survey to readership data, even among seniors, our most loyal readers, seemingly 50 percent of the cohort take newspapers daily but do not see them as their primary news source.

If that is the case, does it really matter to print what the primary news source is? They gave up on us for that years ago. It matters to the journalistic reach of the organization, but it doesn't say print is dead.

Zogby goes on to say: "86% of Americans said Web sites were an important source of news, with more than half (56%) who view these sites as very important. Most also view television (77%), radio (74%), and newspapers (70%) as important sources of news."

Well, this question strikes me as so vague as to be nearly meaningless, but let's take it on its word. Seven out of 10 Americans say newspapers are important sources of news, and we know from other studies that seven of 10 Americans say they look at a newspaper a few times a week, even though only 1 in 10 Americans say newspapers are their primary news source.

There must be a business model in here somewhere.

And "primary" has two meanings -- "main" and "first." Not that this is a matter of people mis-parsing a word and skewing a survey in a verbal equivalent of hanging chad. But think about the question as this: "Where do you generally go to hear about breaking news first?" Well, heck, we've known for years that it isn't a printed newspaper. It's been TV, or TV and the Internet, since Ruby shot Oswald. And "news" has many meanings. It's an immediate event. It's analysis. It's big stuff and little stuff. It's international and local. Each works better in some media than in others.

Interesting study. But if someone says "this shows print newspapers are doomed" -- we can now point out that it doesn't.