Sunday, June 7, 2009

Columbian Takes on Water, Mistakes Higher Levels in Boat for Increased Readership

It's been quite a number of years since what passes as the Vancouver area's paper of record has had anything to offer the community. Readership dwindles, advertising dollars are moving to venues that will actually bring sales, and as the local content gets weaker and weaker, the paper that heralds itself as local and independent is steadily turning into an AP-wire regurgitation device.

The two irritants I've been hanging on to for the last few weeks are the new "print extra" "feature" in the paper, and Lou Brancaccio's insipid commentary.

Print Extra:

So here's the problem: readership of your print publication is down, and you don't make enough money off of online advertising to support all the people going to your website to read the news in a convenient, quick, on-demand and paper-waste-free format. How are you going to solve that problem?

If you're a forward-thinking publication that actually wants to serve its readers and customers, rather than punish them, you might try to figure out how to meet their needs and monetize their involvement.
If you're the Columbian, however, you decide to make one story a day absolutely unavailable online, so that if someone wants to read it they have to go buy the paper.

I've had a number of conversations and arguments with people in the publishing industry about this very thing. Old-guard newspaper people say it's a smart move: they're adding value to their product.

But the old guard is wrong.

The death of the daily paper is an old, tired, topic -- in all reality, newsprint will probably never die. BUT, the way we interact with it is definitely going to change. And every decision the Columbian has made of late -- from building a shiny new headquarters that they couldn't afford to blaming those pesky advertisers for their fickleness to making their product, the news, harder to access -- reveals a company that is unwilling to innovate.

There are a handful of folks out there who say we should support our local paper because it's our local paper and we can't let it die. But frankly, that's a little too much like leaving Grandpa on life support because Mom never got over her Electra complex and just can't bring herself to pull the plug.

SW Washington DOES need a consistent, reliable source of local news reported daily. But the Columbian isn't cutting it. If I want a rehash of wire stories, I've got a number of other national sources that, frankly, I'm more apt to trust. If I want business news, I'm going to go to the Vancouver Business Journal, where their reporters take the time and care to actually research and investigate their stories rather than just rehash press releases. If I want local entertainment news, the only paper that consistently provides it is the Vancouver Voice.

The Columbian is on the brink of obsolescence, and they seem determined to drive themselves there as quickly as possible. The Print Extra is a terrible idea because, while they might be adding "value" to one story a day, the rest of the paper continues to decrease in value. Make the paper something worth reading, though-- even if it's only 4 pages, pack it with local news that is relevant and unavailable anywhere else -- and I'll gladly pay for it. I'll happily pay for a paper subscription and read it offline. Or I'll pay for a digital subscription and read it on my computer. But when what you're asking me to pay for it rehashed national news and just three or 4 local stories that are actually reported by your staff, you make it easier for me to call you irrelevant. You make it less of a concern to care about what's happening locally. And you insult what readership you DO have by continuing to insist that the daily paper is a force to be reckoned with.

The daily paper's time has come and gone. You can't break news in print when I can Twitter a news link around the world in three seconds. You can't tell your readers what to think because you're no longer their only source of information. And you can't bully us into supporting you, because you no longer have the power behind you to make anyone give a damn.

So stop trying, and give your customers what they want. Try running your business like a business and make some decisions that don't alienate your customers at every turn.

I WANT to want to support the paper. I just can't bring myself to give a shit about them, if they don't give a shit about me.

More on Brancaccio in a future post.


  1. I'm jumping the gun here, but, Lou's "Press Talk" column really bugs me. I don't like the tone he writes with. He writes like a little lost puppy most of the times, it's annoying and degrading as a newspaperman. The worst part, by far, is the fact he always comments in his own column threads.

  2. You're absolutely right, Ossie. Whenever I read his column--and always against my better judgment, I want to reach through the paper and choke a bitch. Faux-folksy self-congratulatory crap. Lou, if you've got to tell us why your paper is 'good,' .... um....yeah .... FAIL.

  3. Just found your blog, Vantucky. I have noticed some of your posts on The Columbian and you make a lot of sense to me. They are a refreshing break from the underinformed drivel that is so prominent there.

    I must say, to my embarassment, it has taken me about a month to figure out Lou B's Press Talk MO on my own. I finally got to that point when I tried to post a reasonable and respectful observation about an editorial contradiction I noticed. Three times I posted that thing. Nothing. As a test, I posted on another thread topic and saw my comments show up immediately thereafter. I went after it a fourth time, just for the challenge. Nothing.

    I figured out that Lou is doing a little more editing than he should on Press Talk to help "shape" the focus of the discussion, just to make sure no one throws some shit in the game.

    Add me to the latest list of smart readers who have given up on this rag.