Monday, May 10, 2010

What I Want for Mother’s Day: A Robust Local Paper

Along with many readers of the Inquirer (and Daily News), I have quietly watched over the past few years as the paper became thinner and more anemic. It’s been like watching a close friend waste away from a terminal illness. You keep saying “you look great” and hoping the truth doesn’t show in your eyes. Now the papers have new owners, new management, and layoff letters have gone out, though that is said to be a technicality (“New owners of PMHs send letter on layoffs,” by Nathan Gorenstein Inky 5/08). So, on Mother’s Day, and knowing that much of parenting is tied in with the community, let me say what I would like to see from the local paper.

1) News, and lots of it. For awhile I used to count the number of locally written stories in the Inquirer, compared to the number of AP stories or bylines from other papers. It was too depressing so I quit. Yes, national and international news will always require the printing of stories from other organizations, and health, business, and entertainment stories sometimes come from the same sources, but, seriously, when the number of locally written stories is such a low percentage of the paper, why wouldn’t people just buy a newsmagazine or the New York Times? Even the material borrowed from other sources is not that good. I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal as well as the Inky and it is often now my main source of originally written national and social interest stories. Their stories are fresher and more detailed.
2) More local news. One of the desired qualities in a local paper is the local angle on national stories. We don’t necessarily see a lot of that in the Inky and DN. While many, if not most, of the paper’s subscribers live in the suburbs, most of the local news is based on the city. In part that is due to a reduced staff. I remember when my part of the county I live in had an assigned Inky reporter. I didn’t like a lot of what she wrote but she knew the area and its players. That was years ago. To provide a distinction between the Inky and the DN, how about having the DN focus more on the city itself and the Inky on the larger region? Or is that already done? I will confess ignorance here as I never buy the Daily News (nothing personal in that, but the Inky delivers).
3) More investigative reporting. The paper’s recent series of articles on the city’s court system is one example. We need a lot more of that.
4) More copyeditors. When I asked Mr. J what he most wanted from the local papers he said “words spelled correctly.” I agree.

How to come up with the money for that? Here are things they could cut:

1) Overpaid columnists. In 2009 the Inky started paying former Sen. Rick Santorum $1750 a column for two columns a month. I wrote at the time:

Figuring two columns a month that's $3,500, or $42,000 a year. According to the census bureau, the average household income in Pennsylvania in 2007 was $48,562.

Ditching Santorum should pay for a good portion of a new copyeditor. Most of the paper’s columnists are giving their opinion. To be blunt, that’s what blogs are for. Why should I pay to read someone else’s opinions when I have more than enough of my own? Santorum isn’t saying anything new. I haven’t followed the John Yoo controversy but I think he could go, too. Lest anyone think I am being partisan, how about getting rid of Buzz Bissinger? I haven’t read any of his columns but the profile in Philadelphia Magazine didn’t present him in a very good light. Early on I read Lisa Scottolini but, here again, it’s not why I read the paper. The only reason I’m naming those four is that none of the other columnists have every really registered so I can’t list them. The whole “Currents” section of the Sunday paper is lost on me. Editorials I’ll read, but not the columns. Stop paying many of the columnists and the paper could hire one or two reporters and a copy editor. Note: Keep Dan Rubin and Monica Yant Kinney. I read those and for whatever reason they don’t register to me as opinion columns but more as informal news columns. Feel free to argue with my categorizations.
2) I’ll pay for the cow. Right now I get the online version of the paper but seldom read it. I can read the paper version at home and it is easier to maneuver. But I’d pay extra for things that didn’t fit in the regular paper for space reasons, and that is one big feature that online has over print – the lack of space restrictions. Put additional background information or reporter notes, etc. online in a “pay only” section. I’d buy it. If the reporters are doing this work already then it wouldn’t cost that much to produce.
3) Pardon the snark but if is going to have so many T&A photos on it, why not just put them in a separate section and charge for them? I swear, some days it is embarrassing to have the main newspaper website page come up on my office pc. If that brings in a lot of traffic and drives up the advertising clicks, just separate it and brand it for what it is.
4) Be the Philly gateway. Charge a little to create links to and categorize other Philly area sites – city government, the Historical Society, the sports teams, airports, museums, zoo, etc.
5) Monetize the photo archives. Digitize photo collections from the paper’s backfile. It might bring in ad revenue or charge for access. Just a thought.

Granted I don't know beans about the newspaper biz but those are some random suggestions / ideas. Just, please, don't cut it any further. It was so exciting to move to a city that had a real paper. Please let us keep that distinction.

1 comment:

Adam Lang said...


You touch on something I have been saying for a couple years now for all of the daily news paper industry: stop giving away the content for free.

Before the Internet, everyone accepted the fact you had to pay some change to read the news.

Using myself as anecdotal, I would buy a subscription to the Inky or Daily News if there was a reason to. Right now, the the content is free, so why buy it? (I do have a Sunday subscription to the Inky because I actually feel guilty. I know, weird.)

Also, I do hope they fix the layout. The website is painful to navigate (I hope the new CEO addresses that).

We don't need anything fancy to "save the newspapers". We don't need government sponsorship, special non-profit statuses or new fair use legislation. We just need people to pay for the product.

Also, on one of your other points, I have had many friends, predominantly female, complain not just about the T&A on the front page of, but the fact it will be there for 6 months to a year after the event (Wing Bowl for example).

This is why I was never enthused about the "Keep it Local" campaign. I haven't exactly been impressed what the local group has done.