A former colleague now lives in a sizable city where the daily newspaper became a three-days-a-week paper a couple years ago.“It’s dreadful,” she says. “We still get the printed paper, but so much of it is old news by the time it arrives. It’s a shambles. I hate what has happened to a good newspaper. The community has lost the common voice, and that bodes ill in so many ways.”
Now it’s the Salinas Californian’s turn to go from daily to three days – Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It’s a sad thing, a very sad thing for a paper that launched shortly after the Civil War, but it isn’t the newspaper or even its staff that I worry about. I worry about the community, one that has already lost much of its cohesion because of the newspaper’s slow but steady decline in recent years.
As usual, management at the newspaper felt compelled to search for a positive spin. Editor Pete Wevurski’s column about the changes wasn’t as fatuous as it might have been but the headline was the worst: “You’ll still see all your favorites … and more.”
The “more” promised in the headline apparently is additional commentary provided by you, the readers, on those days when there are enough pages to accommodate anything more than the essentials.
Publisher Paula Goudreau put her true feelings in a box and hid them beneath her desk before writing her column, which told us, “Today I am excited to announce a significant change that is an important step to assuring The Californian will continue to build on its first 144 years for many decades to come.”
“This shift – driven by our consumers and advertisers – enables us to invest in a new way of doing business and better position ourselves for the future. Salinas has evolved into one of California’s youngest markets, and research tells us that a decidedly large portion of that key younger demographic clearly prefers to get their news on mobile devices, rather than print.
“The Californian has recognized the digital opportunity these past few years and has focused on local breaking news and local content that appeals to the changing marketplace in Salinas. Its mobile apps for smart phones and tablets were upgraded early in 2014 and the mobile version of TheCalifornian.com web site is robust. And more improvements related to new kinds of content, video and advertising opportunities on the mobile platform are in development. We’ll be telling you about these in the coming weeks.
“Blah, blah, blah….”
In other words, not to worry. We’re excited to tell you that less is more.
I’m not trying to be mean here or pick on anyone at the Californian. Though it was a key component of the competition while I was at the Monterey Herald, newspaper people love newspapers and other newspaper people. It’s just that I’ve been through my own share of belt-tightening and cutbacks in the industry and I’ve heard too many people at the top of the food chain tell us that the readers would still love us no matter how thin the gruel became.
Fortunately, cutting back on production should not require any cuts to the production staff in Salinas because the paper, for the most part, is edited and put together at a sister paper in Visalia, another outpost in the huge Gannett chain.
My biggest fear now is that some bean counter at corporate will calculate that a three-day-a-week newspaper doesn’t need as many reporters as a daily. One might look at it that way, I suppose, but not after being reminded that most journalism of real value takes longer than a day to produce. In other words, there’s nothing at all wrong if a reporter working on Monday also spends Tuesday working on a story for the Wednesday paper instead of a Twitter blurb about a fender bender.
Goudreau tells us that this is not a cutback, not a retreat, but simply a change in direction, a change in platform, away from the old days of print and toward the exciting new world of digital. That is, of course, exactly what is happening at newspapers everywhere, which promote the concept of instant news on readers’ phones and laptops. Which would be a good thing if it was in addition to what we used to get in print and not a replacement.
The Herald is owned, for now, by a company known as Digital First Media, a name that included the mission statement. Unfortunately, news distributed digitally is not as lucrative as news delivered to your porch, and the company is now for sale.
Fortunately for readers on the Peninsula, Monterey County Weekly has done an excellent job supplementing the news supply as the Herald has trimmed staff and pages. For better or worse, the Weekly also has devoted considerable resources into its Web product, which unavoidably takes resources away from the print product. Still, all in all, the Peninsula is relatively well served by a combination of the Herald, the Weekly and the Pine Cone with an intermittent assist from the Partisan.
The case is not at all similar in Salinas. There isn’t a weekly. There isn’t a Salinas Partisan or, for better or worse, anything resembling the Pine Cone.
The loss of the Monday, Tuesday and Thursday Californian won’t have a dramatic impact immediately. People will get used to not having the paper every day and not knowing as much about civic affairs. The process will be gradual, like the community’s adjustment to the slippage of recent years. For now, perhaps we should take a clue from Goudreau and Wevurski and express some optimism, real or imagined.
Perhaps Gannett will discover that the old way was more profitable.
Perhaps someone will start a good weekly or a Partisan or two will spring up.
Maybe someone with more money than sense will buy the Californian and turn it into what it once was.
Or maybe, just maybe, someone at the paper will read the promises that Goudreau and Wevurski made about commitment to the news and the community and actually try to make good on them.
Wish them luck. Wish us all luck.