Saturday, August 23, 2008


Newspaper meltdown 9: Hawaii’s first blog strike

by Larry Geller

Why would people who are not paid go on strike? In this case, because they aren’t being paid. From Rich Figel’s latest article:

The Advertiser blog strike is supposed to start Monday, Aug. 25, so after Sunday I don’t know when (or if) I’ll be back. One issue is staff writers want to be compensated for extra work, such as blogging, Fair enough. But shouldn’t freelance bloggers be paid for our contributions as well? Content is content, and the Advertiser should pay writers who provide it.

Rich is discussing something that has so many aspects to it… I’d like to take up this thread. But randomly, since my thoughts don’t have a logical sequence to them.

Subordinating paper to web

The Advertiser appears desperate to promote its web site. I say that because it’s clearly sacrificing the print edition, using space and its most eye catching graphic highlights to suggest to readers that they drop the paper and rush to their computers right now. If I were running a restaurant, do you think I would send my customers to another establishment for desert and coffee? I don’t think so. But that’s what they’re doing.

Metromix promos Recently there was a big promo for Metromix, a feature of the Advertiser web page, which turns out to be owned by Gannett and Tribune Co. I can’t find the reference, but I recall that this website can be run by only two people. My guess is that, just as print staff is being tapped to create the on-line blogs, the arts and entertainment staff could be pressured into providing fodder for Metromix. Just a guess. How else will they fill it up? Only by sucking the blood of the print staff.

As you see from the pic, I did as I was supposed to, I took the paper over to my keyboard and checked Metromix out on the web.

So the web biz will be nurtured at the expense of the print publication. The article pictured in the August 13, 2008 Island Life section above is nothing more than a big infomercial.

Although I said “The Advertiser,” it’s pretty clear from reading blogs around the web that other Gannett papers are going through a similar process.

Here’s another example of trashing the print paper.

Off to the blogs

Yup, I’m back at the keyboard. The Advertiser runs the beginning part only of three blogs at the top of their Classified section. In order to read them, I need to drag the paper to my computer and go to the web. Heck with the paper, think I. Why not just go to the web in the first place? And what about granny and grampa, who don’t have a computer? They can never read the ending to the stories. Shame on whoever thought of this disrespectful and desperate strategy.  I can’t think of any kind words for it, believe me, I tried.

Ok, I need to make a contrast. The other day I picked up my free Star-Bulletin at Subway. Leafing through it, I felt as though the editors wanted me to read the paper.

Star-Bulletin feature

Here’s a long feature, a short story actually. In a newspaper. They are giving me something to read! Bless them. The feature story complements the content on the right-hand page.

This pic was snapped at my dining room table, no need for a computer at all. And granny and grampa might enjoy the story. It explains why one young woman accumulated a series of tattoos as her relationships collapsed. It’s of inter-generational interest. Although tattoos aren’t high on my interest list, I didn’t feel shoved away from the paper, I was encouraged to embrace it. That’s my point.

The Star-Bulletin, despite its hard little right-wing heart, is still something one can admire (both papers have admirably qualities, I’m just getting carried away with this concept of a paper wanting people to read it).

Newsprint can’t even compete with this

Gannett also invests in (try it, put in your zip code). Going to the website, I noticed that I won’t need to look at the numerous ads packed with the Sunday paper any more. OfficeMax, RadioShack and more, they’re on this website. Even better, if I am looking for a Garmin GPS (for example), I can search for the best deal in Honolulu. That takes work, if all you have is the circular ads.

Logical extension: another reason why you don’t need to subscribe to the print edition. Just as Craigslist knocked classified ads out of the business model for print papers, services such as shoplocal could put a real dent in advertising circulars.

If publisher Lee Webber is planning to save the paper by doing this, he may be shooting himself in the foot (but no good NRA member would do that, so I’m assuming that Gannett is shooting him in the foot).

Oh, the site offers to send sale info to your email inbox. Can you beat that?? Perhaps a second Craigslist is in the making. And more layoffs at the print paper. Honolulu could end up a one-paper town after all.

I have to reveal a secret. I’ve wanted to be able to put together a comparison-shopping site for years, before there was actually an Internet. Of course, I never did anything with the idea. And now we have shoplocal. When it becomes possible to compare the price of milk (say) at Safeway, Times and Foodland, my idea will have been realized.

Note, please, all the investments in the web. Fine, good. How much is being invested to keep the newspaper alive, or are they (and other papers) thinking they can lay off staff and save it? We’ll have to see how that works out.

Blogging isn’t reporting

It seems the Advertiser is pushing its staff to write blogs. Without compensation. The push is amazingly strong. A huge crowd of bloggers have been assembled at the Advertiser website from among staff and freelancers. It’s as big a change for the paper as going from black-and-white to color might have been in the old days. A real benefit.

Yet it won’t compensate its bloggers, who are a key part of the plan to save its business?? Come on, now.

Worse, it’s easy to find blogs that are interesting, and some can be newsy, but vanishingly few blogs do the same work as experienced, trained reporters. And if the paper rots away, what will we bloggers have to quote (or complain about)?

There’s also something about the blog comments, which take us to Rich Figel’s latest-article-but-one: “Idiocracy”: Reading Article Comments. The stupid, ill-informed comments that are allowed to collect around many blogs, whether newspaper sites or not, are part of a world that is very different from anything that could be described as traditional journalism. A website does no service to the public by providing a forum for useless trash comments. If comments were moderated as they do letters to the editor, something of value might come of them. As it is, while there may be worthwhile reading amid the trash, it’s often just too much work to pan for the gold.

It’s also ugly, something like not picking up the litter around the yard. The whole scene gets trashy. And those commenters aren’t valued readers of the newspaper. They buzz around any website that will allow them to leave their narcissistic remarks.

If this is what a venerable newspaper is creating as its legacy, then the future is pretty much predetermined. Either we will have a respected newspaper with value to the community, or a cheap-to-operate website with standards low enough to accommodate comment junk.

Recognizing death throes when you see them

With shrinking experienced local staff, how long can a paper stretch out its survival? We can expect “media consolidation” in the form of more imported articles. More AP stories, for example. This inevitably turns “fair and balanced” into AP’s bias. Look, for example, at today’s breaking news and you’ll find these “balanced” articles:

Bias bias bias

Yup, each candidate gets a story. One is a fawning pro-McCain AP article, one a strongly anti-Obama AP article. And this, in a very pro-Obama town. If the editors are thinking at all, what do they think their readers will make of this transparent bias? Neither story addresses substantive issues. If I wanted to read USA Today I would have bought that paper. Oh, this is a web page. I forgot for the moment. Let’s see what is printed in the newspaper.

The spot previously occupied by Dick Adair’s editorial cartoon is filled, very awkwardly, by some national cartoon unrelated to Hawaii. Each time I look at that spot, I am reminded that Adair’s cartoon used to be there. The uncomfortable import is a pretty glaring reminder of how the reader’s interest has fallen by the wayside.

Let me close by saying that the Advertiser website has, IMHO, improved immensely. The layout is better (especially if your ad blocker is turned on), and the navigation is better than when they first cut over to the new system. I rely on them for breaking local news. The website’s value is largely derived from its mirroring of the print edition supplemented by breaking news coverage that print cannot achieve. Yeah, the blogs are good too.

Let’s have more and better newspaper websites. And more and better local apps like shoplocal.

But not at the expense of the print paper. It would be sad to lose The Honolulu Advertiser as a sacrifice to keep alive.



Hey, Larry -

I'm getting weird gray boxes on my web page that block out parts your page. After finding out that the Advertiser has locked down the Comments section on my blog, I'm beginning to think there's a conspiracy!

Actually, the Advertiser is doing that to all the blogs that are "on strike," which effectively prevents readers from posting negative comments about the Advertiser management -- or the parent corporation.

So there goes freedom of speech on the Advertiser blog sites!

I don't know what the gray boxes are, I don't get them... but I do see some comments closed. Hmmm...

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Requiring those Captcha codes at least temporarily, in the hopes that it quells the flood of comment spam I've been receiving.

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