Monday, May 4, 2009

Newspaper notes, the early May edition

I've been meaning to write some quick newspaper notes about things I have seen or heard that are worthy of a blog post.

First, none of this is corroborated by anyone officially but the rumor that's going around is that there won't be a print edition of the Boston Globe in a couple of months. Three different newspaper folks I know are saying that while the unions made some pretty big concessions, it still isn't going to be enough to save the newspaper. I don't know if this is true or not, but one has to wonder. The nail-biting is reaching a fever pitch.
Here are a few articles with the latest news: ["Agree or else, Globe tells unions"] and ["Globe mailers union yields on lifetime job guarantees; Guild and pressmen still negotiating"]. Howie Carr rips into the Globe here: ["Shed no tears as Boston Globe fat gets Pinched"].
Nothing has been posted by Dan Kennedy or Adam Reilly, two folks who are usually briefed privately about New England media matters. We'll see what comes up for the future.

Ending our subscriptions
I have been meaning to write about this and it seems as good a time as any. I recently let all my daily newspaper subscriptions run out. The reasons are pretty simple: Money and time. Not unlike millions of other folks, the money I was spending on newspapers is put to better use paying for other things. As well, for whatever reason, I just don't have the time to read them any more. They essentially pile up all week and then I try and spend some time on the weekend catching up.
First to go was the New Hampshire Union Leader last year. I found that most of the state news featured in the UL - the only reason I was buying it - I could also find in the Concord Monitor or online. I kept the Sunday edition for a while but in the fall stopped getting that too. In order to save money, I've stopped buying most of stuff I needed coupons for. So, I don't often need the coupons that come in the Sunday newspapers, one of the big pluses for buying the Sunday newspaper.
I'm still getting the Wall Street Journal but it ends in a week or two. I would like to continue getting it. The WSJ really is an impressive newspaper and I learn so much from reading it. However, the time thing kicks in each and every week. You can't really skim it. You need to READ it. They keep bugging me to resubscribe but they want $150 for the renewal. I have never paid more than $99 for it. If it ends and they come back with a $99 offer again, I may keep getting it. It really is worth the $1 a week.
After many, many years, probably more than three decades, my household no longer subscribes to the Concord Monitor. This was another hard decision based more on finances than anything else. At $35 for eight weeks [I always round up], it might not seem like a lot. But that money, like the UL and cutting the grocery coupon extravagances, is being put to better use. As well, considering the time thing again, I don't often have the time to read it as thoroughly as possible. A quick gander at the headlines online is about all the time I have for the newspaper these days.
It may seem like a complete cop out for a newspaper man to admit that he has [financially] abandoned his local newspapers. It does feel weird. But, at the same time, if there was a Concord weekly which provided me the same type of serious news that I provide readers at my job, I would subscribe to that. But that isn't an option. I also long for a newspaper that will actually give me the hard-hitting, serious news that I long to read about and not distractions or silly things.
Admittedly, for the first time in my life, I also now understand a bit more what my elders always said about not having the time to keep up with new music or trends and cocooning yourself because the most important things are keeping your job, protecting and tending to your family, etc.
I hope to resubscribe to the Monitor again in the future once things settle down financially. While the online experience is interesting - especially with all the outlandish comments - I do miss the print edition.

Changes in the industry
I have reported here previously some of the changes in the newspaper business locally. Unlike the Boston area, which has Media Nation and Don't Quote Me, there doesn't seem to be anyone blogging about media. So, I'm glad to do it.
Here are some of the latest changes I have noticed.
The Union Leader seems to have ceased publication on Saturdays. I noticed a couple of weeks ago that there was a new Friday/Saturday hybrid edition on sale Friday mornings and then the Sunday edition. I saw one complaint about the change on my Facebook account this week so I guess it is a done deal [A Google search yielded no official announcement or anything else about the change]. This seems like a smart move considering that Saturday editions in the business have always been the worst ones for sales, ads, and news - unless there is a bomb dropped nationally on Friday night.

Update: A co-worker of mine sent me the text from the most recent NEPA alert that mentioned the change at the UL. Essentially, the company combined the Friday and Saturday editions for editions outside the "Greater Manchester" area. According to the release, "Greater Manchester includes Auburn, Allenstown, Atkinson, Bedford, Candia, Chester, Danville, Deerfield, Derry, Dunbarton, Epping, Goffstown, Hampstead, Hooksett, Litchfield, Londonderry, Manchester, Merrimack, New Boston, Pelham, Pembroke, Plaistow, Raymond, Salem, Sandown, Weare and Windham, all in New Hampshire." So I wouldn't see it since I'm outside of that area. Thanks Robert for the information!

The Union Leader will offer subscribers receiving the combined edition options such as free access to an electronic version of the Greater Manchester Saturday paper and a subscription extension.

As an aside, the Miami Herald has gone to a Saturday/Sunday hybrid edition. I noticed it when I was there recently for a wedding. My brothers and sisters, who are in their 20s, don't subscribe to the newspaper. So, I went daily to the little bodega down the street to get the Herald. On Saturday morning, there was the hybrid edition - at only 50 cents! It included Saturday news on the front plus the guts of the Sunday newspaper - flyers, real estate, Parade, etc. Wow. Not only a bargain but I actually had a chance to skim through the thing before the wedding. Very cool idea.
A not so cool idea? The Monitor's massive left hand side rail on Saturdays that promos what is in the inside of the newspaper. It, frankly, reeks, "We don't have enough news to put on the front page so let's put a huge rail on the left hand side." It just looks really bad. The rail would look cool if it were smaller. And, it would look cool as an every day thing. Many newspapers are starting to put content rails on the front page in order to make up for the fact that they don't have the news or staffing to fill the front page each and every day or week. It really stands out as a useful tool but not when it is so big. The Monitor might consider scrapping the Saturday edition, having staff produce enough stuff in the can to be used on Saturday to have at least a few things on the front page, a Friday/Saturday hybrid edition, or produce a hybrid Saturday/Sunday edition.
Two more South Florida notes: I really enjoyed the Sun Sentinel's redesign. Big blocky letters, big headlines, small pull graphics and quick hit things to read. Lots of color everywhere. I really liked it compared to the stodgy Sun Sentinel. The Miami New Times is also still as good a newspaper as it was in the past although I noticed that it was a lot smaller than in years past. I mean, a lot smaller, like 50 to 60 percent in page counts. Yikes!
Speaking of alternative weeklies, I noticed that the Hippo was 56 pages this week, that's down from a hefty 70-plus pages this time two years ago.

A bit of bragging
In closing, I want to brag a bit: At my company, the newspaper I edit, the Belmont Citizen-Herald, recently was named an interoffice finalist in the GateHouse Media Best Newspaper of 2008 category. Basically, we tied for third with a handful of other weeklies out of nearly 300. The newspaper was the only one to show in the NorthWest unit. We were judged by peers in the business at the University of Missouri so there was no insider voting.
While I know we do a pretty good job, I was really surprised that we placed especially when considering all the great community newspapers at GateHouse. Combined with the NEPA Award, 2008 was a pretty good year professionally for this lowly editor. Here's hoping as many of us get to stay employed in the business we love for as long as we can.

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