Monday, February 27, 2012

And Now, The End is Near.

Larry Platt announced that the Daily News and Inquirer officially begin sharing content today. Sports, news and other stories/ photos/ graphics/ art you see in one paper may wind up in the other.

Of course, this has been happening now for a while. The two newspapers, which are owned by the same company, merged their photo staffs about a year ago. Images you see in the Inquirer have been winding up in the Daily News, and vice versa.

From a journalistic standpoint, this is concerning. Competition drives people to work harder, to uncover more and to just plain be more aggressive.

From a business standpoint, this is outright stupid. Rather than have two competing papers - serving two differing audiences, with different content and different identities - we now have one news operation trying to serve a geographic region that runs from Atlantic City to Harrisburg, from Trenton to Dover. They can't cover that comprehensively, even with the merged staffs.

Thus, the operation will merely offer the facade of documenting the region. Communities will be ignored except when bad stuff happens. Readers will not feel a connection to the papers as they aren't represented in those pages. They'll quit buying them, and maybe opt for a local alternative or nothing at all.

Worse, this massively opens the door for the New York Times to sweep in and absorb the rest of the reading public (especially the wealthy and educated) in the region. Good for the Times but who will document the Greater Philadelphia region?

Not only is the merging of the Daily News and Inquirer staffs the beginning of the end of the Daily News, it is likely the death knell for both newspapers. They have sufficiently rendered themselves obsolete.

And that is so sad.

It's not too late! Rather than spiral downward, here are my suggestions:

1. Identify your audiences. The Daily News, for instance, was the city paper, speaking to the blue collar workers and interested parties. There is a niche that can be capitalized upon. The proposed direction is far too broad. Figure out who you want to reach and what content they need/ want.

2. Make the Inquirer and Daily News massively different, top to bottom. Then, you have two distinct products that you can sell and different markets you can reach.

3. Don't put everything from the newspapers online. Only post teasers, breaking news, updates and multimedia stuff. Make people want to buy the papers, especially if that is your primary revenue source. Recognize the strengths of the Internet and use it accordingly (otherwise, why be in print at all?).

4. Recognize that journalism matters. Competition isn't "needless duplication." Competition is the catalyst behind good reporting, better art, innovation, creativity, etc. Competition should force staff to think, "What can we do differently from the other guys?" Competition should force you to think, "How can the newspaper story be different from the online content?"

Frankly, calling it "needless duplication" is a cop out. It's hedge fund speak for, "We're eliminating jobs because the profit margins aren't high enough."

And the fact that Larry Platt (seen above in images from Gawker) announces these changes as though he's doing the public a favor? I've lost any respect I ever had for the man.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hey Philly, I Think Whitney Houston Died?

Back in the early 1990s, the Philadelphia Inquirer embarked on a new venture - television news. Their one-hour long 10 pm broadcast featured longer packages that were, in theory, more thoughtful and beyond the reactionary news typical of local newscasts. There would be newspaper reporters working with the broadcast folks to develop this more cerebral news.

It didn't work. Fraught with union issues and tensions between the print and broadcast sides, the experiment folded quickly. After a few months of longer stories, the newscast devolved into the typical run-and-gun newscast. They burst through the hour with a load of stories, few with any thought, mostly reacting to events rather than being proactive.

The Inquirer bailed from the project after about a year or so. The newscast continues today but is now fueled by one of the other local newscasts (the local NBC affiliate). The news you find there is nearly exactly the same as you would find on any of the other newscasts. It barely draws an audience.

So why does it need to exist?

I think of this today, when the covers of all three daily Philadelphia newspapers feature stories and art of Whitney Houston, the Newark, NJ native who died on Saturday in California. She has no connections to Philadelphia, except that she recorded her first album here. Beyond that, she was an international celebrity, meaning you will find news about her everywhere today (not to mention yesterday, and two days ago).

To me, this is a massive waste of resources. People already know Whitney died and that the Grammy's honored her. The Internet spread that information quickly. This is redundancy on the grandest scale.

If you are only going to do the same thing that everyone else is doing, you are competing with the world. There is no reason for you to exist, really. If you focus on what you can do that no one else does, however, you create value in your product.

Focus on local. Focus on what you can do that is different from everyone else.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Start-up Journal: A Few Things We've Done Right.

We're in production with issue five and things are lining up quite nicely. We have some really strong content and financially, we are hitting our goals.

This is all a huge relief, as in the past around this time (three weeks before going to press), I've been freaking out. Here's why I'm feeling good now:

• We established a partnership with the School of Rock. They're building a magazine that will run in the inside eight pages of JUMP. This is such a smart partnership - they have a similar mission (music is awesome) and their content is in line with ours (all local and all music). They pay us a modest sum for the space. We get content. They get distribution and a wider audience.

We've done other partnerships in the previous issues but the synergy has never quite lined up. I think we finally found a balance where both parties mutually benefit.

• Because of what we've done in the previous issues, people want to be in the mag. They want to work with us. The spring issue features a cover package with Chiddy Bang. These guys are about to blow up in a HUGE way. Their PR people, who also represent Jill Scott, reached out to us after they saw the Jill cover in November.

• In every issue, different people step up and do awesome, massive amounts of work. Rick Kauffman photographed everything in the winter 2011/2012 issue and because of his work, that issue popped. Colin Kerrigan shot both cover stories for the upcoming issue, and he wrote the Chiddy bang story.

• I still blow at selling ads but my humble approach seems to be working on folks. Rather than sell people on the notion that advertising with us will help their business explode, I explain our mission. We want musicians to stay or come to Philly, and then thrive here. We want Philly to be known as a music town (rather than a place rife with violence and corruption). Our pro-Philly, "support local music" agenda resonates with people.

• I've been meeting with musicians and music industry folks who have all spoken kindly about the magazine. They read it, and then they keep it around.

In addition to all of this, we'll begin streamlining the production process with the summer issue. We would have worked the better process into this issue but I've been dealing with a world of crap (sick puppy, sprained ankle, root canal, etc).

We've developed a sustainable product and it didn't break the bank. There are many other journalism start-ups in the region that are burning through obscene amounts of money (while producing little or nothing) and several that have folded recently. JUMP reaches an engaged audience and covers topics that get scant coverage elsewhere. Our business model has us building upon these successes.

Here are our next goals:

1. Begin paying staff for content creation in 2012. This is doable if we get a few more advertisers (basically need to sell four more pages per issue).
2. Bump to six times per year in 2013. This is only doable if Governor Tom Corbett has his way with the state budget and my job disappears. That's very possible. We could also do six issues per year if I seriously neglected my dog, girlfriend, job and friends. That's not likely to happen though.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The City That Loves You Back (If You Have Money and Know the Right People).

I DON'T KNOW JIMMY BINNS, the local lawyer who sports pin-striped suits and drives a Jaguar. I know that he gives a ton of money to the local police department (which seems like an odd practice for a lawyer, a potential conflict of interest somewhere, no?).

I also know that Jimmy Binns is not a member of the police department. I know that when I saw his vehicle, parked illegally on the sidewalk, in front of my neighbor's garage door, he was not on official duty (he was at a coffee shop with a police sergeant, as he is on many mornings). And despite his honorary police commissioner status the city designated upon him (again, how is this not a conflict of interest?), he is never actually on official police duty.

So why is he rocking the "Official Business" placard from the commissioner's office?

This is clearly not the greatest sin in a city with many evils. But it is a clear sign that people with access to power receive special treatment.

The fact that this guy donates money and supplies to our police officers (and firefighters) should not allow him the privilege to be an asshole. And that parking job, which is blocking the entrance to an active business, is the move of an asshole. He knows he's in the wrong - that's why he threw his placard up there.