More than anything in the world, I miss working in a newsroom. I miss being a reporter and following a tip that leads me to a great story. I miss the challenge of putting all that information into a concise story that might make a difference. A story that might light a fire -- story that will make people care.
I always like to tell the story of being in fourth grade and talking my teacher into letting us write a school newspaper. The Duncan Times was born and I became a journalist. In the past few years, months, weeks and days, I've seen too many of my fellow journalists -- good writers and great writers -- lose their jobs. Newspapers are dying, we are told.
We can't let that happen. Try to find something on the WWW that you saw last week. Try. It's not easy and it's not always there. Try sharing your online "news source" across the dining room table on a Sunday morning as you sip coffee with your significant other. Yeah, right.
More importantly, think about our history. My guess is when you think of historic events, you remember photos or headlines you read. You can still find those. They are still there. Inscribed. Newspapers record our history, much like, or maybe better than the books we use in classrooms.
I'm scared for the future of the industry, but then a bright light in New Jersey, gives us hope. I'm sure there are others like this paper. Here's the column from the International Herald Tribune:
U.S. newspaper shuns Web, and thrives
By David Carr
Monday, December 22, 2008
With 2008 drawing to a brutal close on the media beat bankruptcies, daily newspapers that are no longer daily, magazines that are downsizing into brochures a little ray of light appeared in my e-mail inbox. It was from a newspaper owner, of all people.
Into the teeth of a historic recession, the newspaper had just published the biggest issue in its history. The product is double-digit profitable, and it has been growing at a clip of about 10 percent a year since it was founded in 1999, right about the time the Web was beginning to put its hands around print's neck.
Finally, I thought, a story about a print organization that has found a way to tame the Web and come up with a digital business approach that could serve as a model. Except that TriCityNews of Monmouth County, New Jersey, is prospering precisely because it aggressively ignores the Web. Its Web site has a little boilerplate about the product and lists ad rates, but nothing more. (The address is trinews.com, for all the good it will do you.)
"Why would I put anything on the Web?" asked Dan Jacobson, the publisher and owner of the newspaper. "I don't understand how putting content on the Web would do anything but help destroy our paper. Why should we give our readers any incentive whatsoever to not look at our content along with our advertisements, a large number of which are beautiful and cheap full-page ads?"
Other publications much larger than TriCityNews have been wondering about pumping resources into a medium that does not seem to show a promise of returns any time soon.
Writing in The New York Observer, John Koblin pointed out that when Forbes, Portfolio and Fortune went through recent retrenchments, the Web staffs were hit the hardest. That may be just an old print reflex, but there is a rational argument to be made that the part of the apparatus that has a working business model, declining or not, should receive the resources.
At a time when Web entrepreneurs like Nick Denton of Gawker Media are predicting a 40 percent decline in Web display advertising, it's probably not a great time to be indexing into the Web either.
And there are signs that the free ride for consumers may be coming to an end. I started getting notices to renew my subscription to The Wall Street Journal and its Web site and waited, as I have in the past, for the deeply discounted offer. It never came. And according to company statements in October, paid subscriptions for The Journal's Web site were up more than 7 percent from a year ago.
A few caveats before we turn back the clock on publishing history. TriCityNews employs 3.5 people (the half-time employee handles circulation), has a print run of 10,000, and has a top line that can be written in six figures. Still, by setting rates low almost 10 years ago and never raising them or offering a Web option, Jacobson has built a reliable cadre of advertisers who call for ads, sign up for full pages, and pay in advance. There are no people working for sales commissions.
Editorially, the newspaper is boosterish "we want people to think of Asbury Park as the center of the universe," he said with notes of skepticism typical of alternative weeklies. There are six columnists in addition to the full-time staff, and they write with a mix of attitude and reporting that Jacobson describes as a "plog," a blog on paper.
The low cost of entry on the advertising side means that almost anyone a bar, a retailer, a gym can afford a full-page ad, and the preponderance of them leads to an elegant-looking product.
"I don't allow our name to be used on any kind of content on the Web not bulletin boards or listings or anything," Jacobson said. "I don't want anybody to connect The TriCityNews and the Internet. I don't want anything that detracts from the paper and the presence of those big, beautiful full-page ads."
Unlike other alt weeklies that borrowed heavily and consolidated newspapers in the hopes of creating a rolled-up Web product, Jacobson prefers to publish in a medium that pays for itself.
Creative Loafing, a chain of weeklies based in Tampa, Florida, bought up The Washington City Paper and The Chicago Reader and moved aggressively to invest editorial resources online. The chain filed for bankruptcy in September.
And Jacobson is more than happy to be known as the Fred Flintstone of the publishing world. "There may come a time when the Web is all there is, and we will try to adapt," he said, "and if we don't, well, hey, we had a great run. But right now, the Web makes no business sense for us."
Many people would tell, and in fact have told, Jacobson that he was bound to go the way of the eight-track tape, but from what he has seen, there are a lot of routes to obsolescence.
He said that as a consumer, he's not a print snob; in fact, he no longer buys the physical version of newspapers he once did. "I just get on the Web site, I look at what I need to and I never look at the ads," he said.
There is no doubt that readers benefit in all sorts of ways from digitized journalism and searchable listings online, but that ease of use has not been accruing to the benefit of the publications that provide that information, or very often, their advertisers.
When it comes to brand advertising, print has a strong track record. Advertisers like the analog presentation in TriCityNews for the same reason they come back in droves to Vogue.
Jacobson, 47, is a former lawyer and politician he was a New Jersey assemblyman in the '90s who started The TriCityNews in January 1999 with $15,000 he had won in a personal injury lawsuit. The company is called Limited Risk Inc.
"Right after we started, the dot-com bust happened and we have been running scared ever since. We live off the land and run it very lean," he said. "There is no debt, our office in downtown Asbury Park is very small, and we have never raised our rates, so people tend to stick with us regardless of what is happening in the economic cycle."
The three full-time employees met for their annual Christmas dinner the other night.
"All of us," Jacobson said, "are pretty happy with our lifestyles I was able to quit practicing law quite a few years ago and are thankful that we seem to have secure jobs and what seems to be a good future in a pretty tough industry."
Liberating Plankton, part 1
6 days ago