The medium isn’t the message

The folks at Crosscut got ahold of an in-house Seattle Times memo, and well, things aren’t looking so rosey these days over at Fairview Fanny. Print revenue is down 10.7% for January and February compared to the same two-month period last year. That’s worse than the 9% drop Times publisher Frank Blethen had been predicting, and considerably steeper than the 7% average decline for the newspaper industry last year. But the news only gets worse:

An even more ominous stat is the drop in the Times online revenue for January and February. That number was down 6.5% from the same period last year, according to Kelly’s memo.

The Times, like the rest of the newspaper industry, has been banking on the continued brisk growth of its online ad numbers to head off the well-documented drop in print advertising, as readers move to the Internet…

I’ve never been shy about airing my beefs with Blethen and his paper, but I’m not one of those bloggers who cheers the decline of the legacy media. I love the dailies, and typically browse at least a dozen a day. Indeed, I consider myself as much a media critic as a political commentator or reporter, which in itself should be understood as an act of love and respect. (You wouldn’t become a theater reviewer if you didn’t love the theater, or restaurant critic if you don’t appreciate dining.)

So let me offer a bit of free advice to Frank and the next generation of Blethens preparing to replace him: the medium is not the message. You can’t just move your content online, add a comment thread, and coast through the rest of the 21st century. If you want to thrive in this new medium pioneered by upstart bloggers like me, you need to do more than just update your technology. You need to update your content. You need to think a little more like a blogger.

Or maybe… you could just hire some of us. Really. You could benefit from a little blogger perspective (not to mention a more engaging writing style), and I could benefit from… well… a steady paycheck.

So Frank, gimme a call. Let’s work something out before I get a job offer from an industry that isn’t seeing its revenues decline ten percent year over year.

Comments

  1. 2

    spews:

    Ooops, does death (using “strike” and “/strike”) work better than death (using “s” and “/s”)? Standard HTML considers them to be interchangeable.

  2. 5

    rhp6033 spews:

    One has to remember how newspapers first got started. They local guy who had a printing press charged businesses to print up their advertisements. This provided most of the revenue. Since he already had the rather expensive presses which were idle a good part of each day, he decides to print a regular advertising sheet. This works okay, but he finds that it’s a lot more valuable to the reader (and therefore his advertisers) if he can add content, and distribute it on a regular basis. Entry into the business, and therefore competition, is restricted by the fairly high cost of the printing equipment and the skills required to quickly set type. The entry floor only gets higher and higher as the size & cost of the equipment rises. Eventually we have, by the mid-20th century, a rather sophisticated news & advertising distribution system, complete with content gatherers (reporters & editorial commentators), product production (printing), along with a delivery system (home delivery + newstands).

    But with the internet, everything is turned on its head. The entry cost into the business is virtually nill. You don’t have to provide content about everything, those which address a particular interest niche tend to do better than those that don’t. Unique content is important, simply copying what was reported elswhere doesn’t carry much weight. And one thing I have noticed about online newspapers is that at least 3/4 of the local newspaper’s content is either wire service reporting or syndicated columns, which you can read on any number of sites. Also, editorial content isn’t as valuable as it once was – it’s pretty easy now for people to get lots of input before they make up their mind on how to feel on a subject, instead of relying upon a newspaper editor to tell them.

    But one of the most important distinctions between printed papers and online copies is that with internet advertising, you have the ability to track exactly how effective the advertising is. Sure, you can just throw up an add, like printing one in the newspaper, and hope it has an effect on people’s buying behavior. But you also have the option of creating an immediate response ad, whereby someone who clicks on the link is tracked back to the original source of the link. I use that on my own website, so I know which sources are sending me traffic and which ones aren’t. If you want to carry if further, you can use an affiliate system to only pay for traffic which actually results in sales. I suspect that as we enter a rescession, advertisers are cutting back on ads which don’t directly result in sales, but they may be willing to pay more for ads which are directly tied to sales results. Perhaps the Times hasn’t made that transition, yet.

    The only real comparison with this sort of system in the dead-tree world is with coupons, which allow the issuer to identify which newspaper or magazine carried the coupon.

  3. 6

    spews:

    Goldy,

    Why don’t you just go down to 2nd and Cherry and ask passers-by, “Hi ya sailor, new in town?”

    You think that the general public will flock to a Goldy-enhanced Seattle Times? That would probably feature what you call yourself the sewar of your comment threads?

    While Frank Blethen may have a suicidal death wish, must it come at the point of a self-infliced Goldy stake through the heart?

    The Piper

  4. 7

    spews:

    Piper @6,

    It doesn’t matter if folks like me. It’s whether they consistently read me. And thanks for proving my point.

  5. 8

    thorn spews:

    Goldy, I too, would like you to have a steady paycheck. You deserve better than to have to receive it from the whim of the Blethens.

  6. 9

    spews:

    @6…Goldy…

    I’m here in large measure for the fun of the verbal combat; I enjoy jousting. Most people don’t; they simply want to read the paper, starting with the comics, then sports, then whatever is left.

    Those folks definitely don’t want to wade through the mire of vitriol, personal insults and attacks, hate rhetoric, and simple profanity that has become the stock in trade of HA.

    If you were offered something at the Times conditioned upon absolutely cleaning up your (meaning HA’s) act, would you? Could you? If it meant jettisoning gutter-tongues like Rabbit, YLB, GBS, and even some of your fellow-posters?

    Here’s a thought…why don’t you do a better job of promoting HA? Sell more ads, for example. Build HA as a business, not just another crazy leftist hate site ala DailyKus or HuffandPuffingtonPost. Create your own media empire that you could then pass down to your daughter much the same way the Blethen’s have been doing since the Second Silesian War.

    Develop a business plan, take it to a bank, get a loan to expand and hire a sales/marketing pro. Don’t demean yourself by begging on Will’s or your own behalf.

    If you truly believe in yourself and what you do here, then you would be eager to put all you own on the table and let ‘er ride! No risk, no reward.

    It is the American way.

    The Piper

  7. 10

    correctnotright spews:

    @5: That would be a sewer in the threads….

    Hey – I think goldy is provocative and that is what sells – as the dimwits at the Discovery Institute say “teach the controversy” – well goldy brings the controversy.

  8. 11

    correctnotright spews:

    @8: Actually Piper has a point – where else can conservatives and liberals has things out and occassionally find points of agreement. Sometimes people are too busy just insulting each other on here – but there are also those rare times where opposite ends of the political spectrum are in agreement.

  9. 13

    spews:

    There is an answer that is consistent with Goldy’s post HUFFINGTON.

    Like many others, I no longer read the morning newspapers. We still get the nY Times and the PI. The pI we use for food ads. The NYT .. honestly for less and less.

    MY real morning news fix comes from Drudge .. for anything anyone might want to put on a frontpage, Huffington for assorted marvelous comments, and the Seattle Examiner (an on line news consolidator). I also have aset of newspapers ti do look at ..in irregular fashion .. from around the world. There is traditional newspaper that rivals this mix.

    What I would love to see is a Huffington like web site for Seattle. The site would be open to many writers but also have its own staff. Such a site, focussing on local issues and local perspectives on national issues would certainly get my attention everyday.

    If Crosscut can not make it, why can’t the Times or PI re-invent itself this way? Huff PROVES there is money in the model.

  10. 14

    PaddyMac spews:

    content content content. (#5 you have it exactly backwards)

    Sorry Goldy but the dailies still have the best content. TV reads the dailies to the folks. Radio reads the dailies to the folks. Bloggers comment on the dailies to the folks. (There are some huge exceptions, yes.) The aggregators gather and package the dailies for the folks. The dailies ARE the news.

    Besides its other shortcomings, the Times just has a lousy circulation department.

  11. 15

    spews:

    I’m no sure that you alone could rescue the Times, Goldy, but I assure you that with you writing for the Times it could not possibly become a worse paper….If you remember the Guild strike a few years back, The P-I was a lot nicer to their strikers.

  12. 16

    PeeWee Blethen spews:

    Um … Times puts the day’s biggest story, McDermott, deep on the inside Local Section. Times is bleeding big bucks. McDermott has a direct pipeline to Saddam’s billions. Let’s connect the dots …..

  13. 17

    PeeWee Blethen spews:

    (W)ith you writing for the Times it could not possibly become a worse paper ..”

    Could and would. (Have you read any of Goldstein’s garbage at the excremental Horsesass.org? Barf bags de rigeur.)

  14. 18

    spews:

    People will not buy the Times for the writing. They want News. Goldy’s biggest contribution may be that he finds news.

    Or maybe the Times only wnat to wrap fish?

  15. 19

    ArtFart spews:

    16 Hmmm….I was wondering when one of the trolls was going to bring up the McDermott story. My only comment is that I don’t give a shit whether Saddam paid five thousand bucks for Jim to go to Iraq. It didn’t do him any more good than Bush the Demented spending hundreds of billions of our money to send our troops there did for anyone else.

  16. 20

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    Goldy–
    Perhaps TASS…I mean, the P-I would be more receptive to your advice. How are they doing? Why not ask your pal Joel Connelly to hijack a memo for ya so you can be on the cutting edge of their decline/demise.

  17. 21

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    Goldy–
    I’ve always believed you have somewhere in the range of 9-10 regular HA readers….11 on a good day.
    Several post under multiple identities.
    You have a handful of Sybil’s!
    Posts on threads do not equal readers.
    I’m like Piper…I enjoy jousting and occasionally I learn something new here. I appreciate your efforts Goldy.
    But please….don’t overstate your impact…..again.

  18. 22

    ArtFart spews:

    Maybe after the newspapers go out of business and the Internet finally collapses under the weight of all the VOIP, spam and porn traffic and government-mandated “enhancements”, we’ll be back to a Town Crier walking around hollering out word of the latest happenings.

  19. 23

    tumbler spews:

    I love the papers, too–but I admit that I only buy the hardcopy edition for the funnies and the crossword.

    I do all my news and sports reading at their websites.

  20. 24

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @5 “the sewar of your comment threads”

    Holy shit piper, how did you get through college and law school without learning to spell “sewer”??! Come to think of it, after reading a lot of legal briefs, many lawyers can’t spell (or write) worth a damn.

  21. 27

    righton spews:

    Goldy, your only hope of regular employment in the field you love is to get maria, patty or Jim to appoint you to some stupid government job.

    Isn’t that where all the other socialists land? I’m always amazed at all the locals landing jobs w/ the Port, some research group, trade rep, policy group etc….

  22. 28

    ArtFart spews:

    27 What the……??!?

    You want to talk about Bruce Chapman, perhaps? How about Susan Hutchison? Timmy-Boy, maybe? Gadfrey, how many right-wing “foundations” are there around here and elsewhere that seem to be serving as retirement homes for failed neocon politicians?

    As to the Port, what’s the alternative to having it run by locals? Bring in a bunch of carpebaggers? Better yet, how about bring in someone from Alburque or Omaha? We’ll have to take ‘em down to the docs and say, “See that thing over there? That’s called a ‘ship’…”

    Dude, you ought to get the award for Dumbest Comment of the Month.

  23. 29

    Spike spews:

    The newspaper issue is fun to think about. In the old days at our house we got both the Times and the P-I. We like to read the paper and a breakfast paper and a supper paper were our daily doses. The most offensive element in the paper business in Seattle was the Times’ endless attempts to diminish the P-I and destroy it. We tended to think of the P-I as more local, more relevant, better atuned to the mood of Puget Sound; the Times was always, still is, a propaganda arm of its owners, who used the paper for their own personal desires, not the people’s (e.g., the Death Tax issue). The Times was like the boring old aunt who always showed up at family dinners. We got used to it.

    What finished us with the Times, though, was their willingness to lie outright to their readers when they decided to kill the P-I by going morning. Their rationale was first money, and second demand. The first was debatable, the second was pretty much an outright lie, as anyone knew who asked around.

    People did NOT want the Times to go morning. They did not want the P-I destroyed by the bigger paper. I asked around work and didn’t find a single person who took the afternoon Times who wanted to see it move to morning. No one I knew could think of anyone who wanted that to happen. People liked the evening paper, wanted it fresh after work, liked the up-to-date quality on the West Coast. When pressed on the issue the people running the Times simply bold-faced it out, claiming that there was some groundswell for two morning papers. My belief is this was nothing more than chutzpah. We, of course, got rid of the Times in our household and kept the P-I. More than than, in our house we get the Sunday P-I, as we kept our P-I subscription. The Times wants us to believe that the Sunday paper is theirs. Hah, no way. The Times is liars, outright, not indirect.

  24. 30

    Spike spews:

    @27.

    Thanks for the chuckle. This was the first post in which the writer accused himself of writing the Dumbest Post. (It wasn’t dumb at all, by the way.)