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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Daily Paper Death Watch

Posted by on Wed, Dec 17, 2008 at 9:36 AM

The editor of the San Francisco Chronicle has a secret plan for saving his paper: chase the older demographic. SF Weekly:

For those of you too impatient to read past the jump, here's the Twitter version of what Bushee said: Chron can't figure out how to make $ from Net, so it's gonna charge more money to old people loyal to print who are scared of the Interwebs.

For those of you still reading (presumably people working in the media), Bushee basically said the Chron is going to deal with economic pressures in the industry by aggressively skewing old.

"We cannot necessarily be a publication directed towards young people at the expense of our older readers—we have to understand that," Bushee told Krasny.

Once again here's my surefire plan for saving daily papers: scare away the old folks once and for all. Those readers are killing you. Go tab, charge a lot more for home delivery, offer papers for free in boxes downtown, put "fuck" in a headline on the front page above the fold (if you haven't gone tab), identify with the cities you're freakin' named for (and the not the freakin' suburb your publisher lives in), and stop swimming with one anvil tucked under your left arm ("family newspaper") and another tucked under your right ("objectivity"). Papers are for adults, not children, and mincing around about profanity turns off adult readers; people prefer openly biased media because letting your bias hang out there is, at least, honest; and, once again, catering to old timers and making sure there's nothing in your paper that can't be read to a six year-old at bedtime turns off adult readers.

And do all this now.


Comments (28) RSS

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Well well another potty mouth pundit comment, just like those East Coast bigwigs who think the Pacific Northwest is just full of old grouchy walruses.

Harrumph I say.
Posted by JC on December 17, 2008 at 9:45 AM · Report this
what is TAB.
Posted by Ur so tab on December 17, 2008 at 9:48 AM · Report this
Tab = tabloid in wannabe speak, @2.
Posted by Non on December 17, 2008 at 9:49 AM · Report this
Catering to old people sounds like a sure-fire way to ensure long-term success. Seeing as how this demographic will undoubtedly live forever, I don’t see what could possibly go wrong.
Posted by Julie in Chicago on December 17, 2008 at 9:50 AM · Report this
I like the Stranger. I don't buy this argument. I do agree that you don't go after the old people exclusively unless you don't care about the future of your paper.

The Stranger has a specific, cultivated identity, and somehow manages to turn out good stories despite that.

The Chronicle would fail in a week if it tried to go the Stranger route. It doesn't have the bona-fides.
Posted by poots on December 17, 2008 at 9:52 AM · Report this
Dan is right.

But what is this Tab stuff you're talking about - is that like that Diet Coke thing they keep yabbering about?
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 17, 2008 at 9:53 AM · Report this
Well, Julie, I plan on being old someday. Do you?
Posted by laterite on December 17, 2008 at 9:59 AM · Report this
The major dailies are doomed and their route to extinction will be even swifter by going with such an inane plan of action.

This dumbshit Bushee got it EXACTLY backward; in business you never favor the old over the young...
Posted by michael strangeways on December 17, 2008 at 10:04 AM · Report this
unless you're selling funeral plots, medication or trusses.
Posted by michael strangeways on December 17, 2008 at 10:06 AM · Report this
Or retirement plans or reverse mortgages or medicare supplement plans or Lil' Rascals or manufactured homes or viagra or fear.
Posted by tomasyalba on December 17, 2008 at 10:15 AM · Report this
@7. Yes. And when I am old, I will still know how to use the internet. The demographic of old people who are "scared of the Interwebs" will not be around too much longer.
Posted by Julie in Chicago on December 17, 2008 at 10:18 AM · Report this
Old people do read the paper. I see it everyday. Let them have the P-I and the yourh can keep the Times or The Stranger should merge with the Times and become a daily tabloid.
Posted by elswinger on December 17, 2008 at 10:23 AM · Report this
They should accept ads from escorts.
Posted by daniel on December 17, 2008 at 10:24 AM · Report this
So your recipe is to turn the regular paper into The Stranger? Brilliant. It is clear that this will be a successful strategy because clearly The Stranger already has a larger readership than the regular papers. Wait, what's that? You mean it doesn't?

Seriously, many adults want their news to not be "edgy".
Posted by F on December 17, 2008 at 10:41 AM · Report this
The Chronicle has always been such a snooze. How's the San Jose Mercury doing? They do a lot more real reporting as far as I can tell.
Posted by keshmeshi on December 17, 2008 at 10:57 AM · Report this
i agree half way with this plan of action, however tossing objectivity seems like a route to a bad place. true, many newspapers confuse objectivity with cowardice, but journalistic integrity is a vital aspect of the media.
Posted by douglas on December 17, 2008 at 11:05 AM · Report this
The Stranger is in secular decline just like the dailies.
Posted by Secular Decline on December 17, 2008 at 11:07 AM · Report this
@16. True. Maybe it's not "objectivity" that needs to go but "the kind of objectivity currently practiced". Campbell Brown said something that I loved -- basically, if Candidate A says it's raining outside and Candidate B says it's not, then journalists should be able to say whether it's raining or not.

The attitude of "we have to provide both sides of the story and not take sides even when there are factual inaccuracies" is ridiculous.
Posted by Julie in Chicago on December 17, 2008 at 11:11 AM · Report this
The problem with newspapers is less declining readership than declining ad revenue. The connection is that the lucrative advertising demographic is different from the newspaper demographic.

Weekly papers like The Stranger have a good match between readership and advertisers, but it doesn't follow that you can just replicate that success with dailies. I think it would also be difficult to go the other way, and add daily-style reporting to a weekly newspaper culture. The Stranger would have a hard time hiring laid off journalists from the Times or PI and making their work profitable because its advertisement model depends on a weekly publishing cycle and the advertisers interested in daily publishing wouldn't be the same. To put it bluntly, people are willing to read personals, escort ads, ads for clubs and art shows etc. once a week as they contemplate what to do on the weekend, but they're less likely to want to do that every day over their morning coffee.

If there was an easy answer to this, someone would have figured it out by now.
Posted by Cascadian on December 17, 2008 at 11:11 AM · Report this
Is it even possible? Lots of youth oriented products like Rolling Stone or the Honda Civic are able to grow old and flabby with their consumers, but how does a product that is already old and flabby appeal to young people? More likely The Stranger will grow more restrained and reactionary as its readers age. Plus, once equality for gays is finally achieved, gay men will finally get to be as conservative as they always wanted to be, and The Stranger will need to cater to that or lose them.

It's all so depressing.
Posted by elenchos on December 17, 2008 at 11:13 AM · Report this
I guess I'm a dim bulb, but I thought it would bring in money to add an Internet News section to report on I-happenings and for running ads about internet sites just getting started or who need more exposure.
Posted by Vince on December 17, 2008 at 11:58 AM · Report this
I have an idea.

Rename the Seattle Times something like Ye Olde Seattle Times And Suburban Paper.

And then rejigger the Seattle P-I into a paper aimed at younger readers, where you can opt out of parts you don't want - e.g. no sports or no business or no food section.

And do it in a tabloid format with TWICE AS MANY PAGES OF COMICS as it has today.
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 17, 2008 at 12:02 PM · Report this
I agree with Dan. I don't think he's suggesting any major daily paper "become the Stranger" or abandon "objectivity". He's saying that a) major papers need to stop pretending to be Emily god-damn Post and write in a way that reflects how adults communicate with each other, and b) to be open about your biases as a reporter. Reporters are human - humans have biases. It's preferrable for a reporter to just let their biases hang out for all to see than to pretend they are some high-minded journalistic robot with no opinions or ideas of their own, the full-flower of which being the hysterical pursuit of "journalistic balance", which in practice amounts to pretending there are 2 legitimate sides to every story, when often times the truth is that one side is telling the truth and the other is lying through their teeth...
Posted by Jason E on December 17, 2008 at 12:09 PM · Report this
@16 18
I agree with half of the perscription but the other half.
It is fine for papers to acknowledge that they have a point of view, everyone does and it is dishonest to pretend you even can be 'objective'. Just be upfront with it.
However; profanity and crudity are impediments to good communication, even in an 'edgy' publication.
Posted by momma on December 17, 2008 at 12:26 PM · Report this
@23: It's one thing to acknowledge your biases. It's another thing to let them totally warp your reporting, so that you only report those facts that support your point of view. A good reporter can do both: Lay out all the facts for the reader -- even those that don't support your viewpoint -- and then point out why one position is better than the others.

A bad reporter, on the other hand, is Erica Barnett.
Posted by rjh on December 17, 2008 at 12:51 PM · Report this
I like the idea of being able to subscribe to specific sections.

There should be a newspaper that is all comics, like The Comic News (

I would also subscribe to an all-Crossword Puzzle newspaper.

USA Today used to have an All Sports newspaper that folded but I think the Sporting News is still around.

Posted by elswinger on December 17, 2008 at 1:12 PM · Report this
How much is Frank's paper worth these days? Any chance we could get some angel investors together to buy the damn thing and use it as a demonstration case of how one might be able to save the industry?
Posted by Juan on December 17, 2008 at 1:19 PM · Report this
Hi elswinger,

There IS a newspaper that is all comics, like It's the print edition of The Comic News! And you can subscribe to it; details are on the site.

John Govsky
The Comic News co-publisher
Posted by John Govsky on December 18, 2008 at 10:48 AM · Report this

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