The beginning of the end

A lot of people like to blame blogs like us (ok, not blogs like us, blogs with actual readers) for the downfall of newspapers. We’ve obviously never agreed with this sentiment, newspapers were stale long before Blogspot and WordPress came onto the scene. But, as noted  by many evil blogs, the pulpy side of the news gets fairly paranoid whenever a new competing medium pops up.

For what it’s worth we’re not newspaper fatalists. As long as the internet is vulnerable to hacker attacks like the DDoS attack that took down the Gawker network earlier this week (and Twitter today), there will always be the need for some kind of news medium you can physically hold in your hands. Of course that doesn’t mean there won’t be any casualties along the way. A few majorish newspapers have already fallen and the rest of the industry seems to be hard pressed to find ways to avoid becoming the next Rocky Mountain News.

Ian Hill’s thrown up a few blog posts over at Ian Hill Media about one of major issues handicapping the newspaper industry, marketing. As he notes, unless you’re reading a newspaper you’d be hard pressed to find any advertisements for said newspaper, which is kind of counter-productive. You want to draw in new readers, which is kind of hard to do when all of your ads are in the paper you’re trying to get people to read.

We sincerely doubt papers like the Record have the budget to produce the commercials Hill suggests papers should try and emulate, but they can do better than what they’re currently doing. We know, we’ve seen them do it with 209Vibe. Not that 209Vibe was perfectly marketed by any means, but at least they had t-shirts, it’s own bus (which I’m pretty sure is still driving around despite 209Vibe’s extended zombie-like state), and sponsored shows. What does the Record sponsor? Best of San Joaquin? At the very least they should try to market towards developing a new audience instead of further catering to the older crowd with Lori Gilbert’s weekly eulogies.

Of course, to have good marketing, you have to have a marketing budget. Which is kind of hard to get when your parent company announced today lost $203 million last quarter. They’re going to need that marketing budget though, because then News Crop boss Rupert Murdoch announced that all of his newspapers’ websites (which includes The Record’s) will begin charging for their content sometime in the no-to-distant future.

As the title of this post suggests, we’re not too keen on this idea. Sure, it seems to be doing OK for the Wall Street Journal, but it’s the freaking Wall Street Journal. It’s a national paper that serves an affluent audience with high quality coverage on niche topics that people in that audience need to know about. The Record covered a dog funeral today. There’s somewhat of a difference.

Don’t take this as us wanting the Record to fail because we don’t. We want it to do good, we want great news coverage and quality analysis. Hell, that’s part of the reason this site even exists. We criticize because we want the paper to be better. We want a paper we can be proud of. Not one where somebody sees it under your arm and comments “Man, they’re sure shrinking fast. Probably going shrink away completely before you know it.” (Which someone actually said to me the other day.)

There are still plenty of details to be worked out. Murdoch didn’t specifically say when he’d start charging for content, just that it’d be within the fiscal year (by next summer). Also, you’d have to figure out exactly what you charge for since I can’t see a blanket charge for all online content. Who the hell would pay to be in the Recordnet forums? Sure, there’s the die hards, but how many of them are there? And the ones that are there are probably already Record subscribers, and I can’t see them charging them twice for the same content (On second thought, I can depressingly see that). We’ll probably pony up the dough just to keep up with David Siders’ blog, but how big is the audience for City Council live blogs?

We’d love to be optimistic about this whole endeavor, but even though it has made some improvements in the past year, Recordnet is still barely tolerable as a free site. I can’t imagine paying to get access to myRecord’s sizeable stash of adorable. There’s a lot at risk for a mid-sized paper like the Record. If they cut off thousands of potential page views from casual readers in exchange for a few extra bucks from the online news junkies they’ll be cutting off a revenue stream that they desperately need (those banner ads don’t click themselves) and we can’t see them recovering from that. And that’s why we’re pretty sure this is the beginning of the end.

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~ by Slick Diaz on August 6, 2009.

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