Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Random Thoughts on Detroit

The Detroit newspapers' decision to limit home delivery to three days a week -- well, someone had to test it. Read the link above to Alan Mutter's comments first, and then:

The decision is presented as a way to keep both newspapers. Obviously that consideration does not apply as much in Denver. And Detroit is not the most obvious test market for revolutionary ideas; the area is in semi-permanent depression and is not, say, Seattle or San Francisco in terms of income or educational levels. Did Dean Singleton, owner of the smaller of the two papers, refuse to blink when Gannett wanted, the way Scripps blinked for him in Denver? (Or did he assume Gannett would blink as well?) Is there a provision of the Detroit JOA -- which was, I think, the last one ever created -- that says that both papers have to actually publish in some relationship to each other, to avoid a situation like the St. Louis JOA where Newhouse continued to take its share of the profits for years even though the Globe-Democrat was long gone? Or a tie-in to the legal fiction of the time that the Free Press was the "failing" newspaper? In other words, why not simply publish a joint masthead product seven days a week, or close the News? There has to be more than just a way to cut costs; there are simpler ways to do so.

When Knight Ridder did its famous Boca Raton project, it was in part because the Boca News was so small it made no material difference if the paper lived or died. No one would have risked the franchise in Macon or Duluth on a risky makeover. Is this both companies saying, so what if it doesn't work, we don't care about Detroit anyway, we're stuck with a losing hand?

Did the value of Journal Register's three suburban dailies -- the Oakland Press, Royal Oak Tribune and Macomb Daily -- just go up, after being blamed for basically bankrupting the company? People who want a daily paper on paper can go elsewhere in Macomb, Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw and Monroe Counties -- at least for now. The only county without a daily print home-delivered newspaper will be Wayne County -- Detroit itself, Dearborn, the Pointes, and the autoworker suburbs known as Western Wayne. Of these, it's only hard to imagine the people in the Pointes having enough clout and money to make someone want to serve that market. But that may be outdated thinking.

Things doubtless aren't what they once were at the Free Press, but the paper once was famous for having half of its circulation outside metro Detroit. It was the morning paper for all of Michigan, all the way up to Marquette. As Mutter noted, the papers still have a large outstate circulation. This has to be good news for the Flint Journal and the Lansing State Journal and the Port Huron Times Herald as well. Oh, gee, Gannett owns Lansing and Port Huron and Howell.

The definition of a daily newspaper has long been "printed four or more days a week." What does this do to the entry classifications of local and regional journalism contests? Since the Grand Rapids Press will continue to publish in print seven days a week, at least for today, does this mean the Press can argue that the Detroit papers no longer qualify for the state press association and SPJ awards? (CLARIFICATION: Yes, I knew the Detroit papers say they will still print for newsstand sales only. How long will that last or be sustainable? In any event, if you average circulation across seven days, it won't be the same size category.)

What now qualifies one to be included in the Editor & Publisher International Year Book? If it is simply "a news site updated daily," then Talking Points Memo should be included. This probably means there is no longer any point to the Editor & Publisher International Year Book, but that in a way would mean there was no longer any such thing as the newspaper industry as separate from the information business -- but yet, there is such a thing. Talking Points Memo doesn't even run the press three times a week. Is the qualification going to be "distributes something in print at least once a week"?

As Mutter quotes newspaper production analyst Alan Flaherty: "I wonder if there's some kind of a tug-of-war between Gannett and MediaNews playing out behind the scenes.” Yeah, I do too. Good cases make bad law.

No comments: