Michael Lefort, Rapid City Journal editor has his own blog about the activities associated with the newspaper business. I like Lefort, and his take on newspapering today. An interesting post on his blog explains how Monday's front porch version of the Journal will be more than an inch narrower.
You can read it here: http://blogs.rapidcityjournal.com/editor/
There are several disturbing items in the post, which also includes some other, less meaningful changes which will take place on Monday. For instance, not many will care that the body copy and box score fonts will change. In fact few will notice.
Your puzzles will move. Stocks will get narrower. "Today in History" is, well, history. And then he saved this for last: "- A front page ad will appear along the bottom of A1 daily."
I know we've had a long, cold winter, but I wasn't prepared for Hell to freeze over. No wonder he saved it for last. The Front Page, to old school journalists like Lefort (and me) is quite close to sacred. For many of us it's God, then family, then The Front Page. (Considering the divorce rate among journalists, the order of importance is likely different for many.)
The decision to put advertising on the Front Page of our local paper is symptomatic of what is happening in newspapers around the country, at least those that haven't boarded up their windows and hauled their presses to the recycler.
All of the changes at the Journal are coming in order to either save money or make money. The rotten economy is of course affecting newspapers too. So, they can hardly be blamed for seeking ways to reduce overhead. There's a reason they call it the newspaper business. I don't fault the Journal for whacking the width of the paper. The new width will present some challenges for their page designers, but they – and we readers – will get used to that.
Few dedicated news junkies and virtually no real journalists will get used to the idea of advertising on the Front Page. It was bound to happen, though. Newspapers owned by big corporations have been elevating executives via the advertising department for many years. And, advertising executives rarely understand the basic business structure of a successful newspaper. That's why so few of them are successful these days.
Oh sure, the internet has played an important role in the decline of porch delivered news. That newspaper executives around the country allowed that to happen, however, is due entirely to executives who don't understand the basics, and actually believe their readers purchase the newspaper for the advertising it contains.
There are three equal components to a successful newspaper:
1. Information people desire, presented in an entertaining, unbiased and truthful manner. (News, or product.)
2. Numerous readers who enthusiastically look forward to being so entertained. (Customers)
3. Advertisers. (Customers)
The ugly truth that newspapers around the country haven't figured out is that no one of the above three components can survive without the other two. Publishing executives think the above ugly truth is a lie.
The market is not robust enough, nor has it ever been, for readers alone to pay the cost of gathering news, printing it and delivering it to your porch. But advertisers are very interested in reaching the readers who are enthusiastic about the paper's reportage. It seems simple enough.
But within the walls of a newspaper building, there is an unusual dynamic of contempt. Advertising people believe reporters and editors are people who make selling advertising difficult by reporting or commenting on things that upset their customers (advertisers). Advertising people are absolutely convinced that they are smarter than news people, because they make more money.
Newsroom employees believe, or at least behave as if they believe, that advertising, advertisers and advertising salespeople are pests whose requests for news coverage of advertisers' events get in the way of their writing their Pulitzer Prize-winning expose' which if they only had time to complete would render advertising needless, because readers would flock to the news stands to purchase in numbers sufficient to pay for such valuable and expertly presented information. News people also believe that nothing positive an advertiser ever does is newsworthy. News people are absolutely convinced that they are smarter than advertising people, because they've been to college.
Circulation employees have contempt for both because they know their livelihoods depend on a delicate balance of all three components. And Advertising and News have contempt and disrespect for one another.
The worst part is that this behavior is taught in journalism schools across the country.
Each department has team meetings. The Advertising Director meets regularly with his sales team as they devise promotions to take to customers. The Editor meets daily with reporters and subordinate editors to inspire them to go out and "get the story." And the Circulation Manager meets regularly with his staff to come up with new promotions to increase readership. The Publisher meets with the managers. But cross-department fraternization is discouraged. A newspaper is the cliquiest, most in-bred business on the planet. It would be downright hostile if anyone ever spoke to someone from a different department.
There is no real teamwork at American newspapers. And someone has to make executive decisions, like how to make money and how to save money. Today, those decisions usually fall to the publisher, who usually comes up through the ranks of an advertising department. And, so gentle readers, that is why the Front Page of your Monday newspaper will, for the first time, display an ad across the bottom.
In the end, the need to find ways to keep the newspaper viable outweighed the notion that the Front Page of the newspaper represented its soul. The front page is for sale.
Let's hope it works. As much as this is a disturbing sign of the times, I would rather adjust my thinking about a decades-old tradition than to have our community lose its first, and last newspaper.