Wednesday, June 28, 2006

If I had a magic wand

With all of the digital technology out there, I'd like to re-define what a community newspaper can provide.

Here is my game plan:

I'd select a story a day to cover with a print reporter and a digital video crew and post that video on the web site. We'd beat the TV station on stories as well as the dailies.

Next, I'd create a weekly podcast so people who are fans of audio books can listen to the by-lined stories in our paper. All you have to do is go to the web site and down load it.

Advertisers could have audio ads and we could produce video ads as well.

The dailies are too busy cutting back to want to go into this new territory. Local TV stations are set in their ways and radio stations haven't caught onto the podcast phenomena. I fact so many local radio stations across the country have cut back on their original programming, they may have next to nothing to podcast.

Re-packaging your content so consumer can pick the version that best fits their lifestyle is the key to growing your audience.

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. The buck and the liability stops here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Will smaller weekly papers save the industry?

Two recent clippings came to my attention that pose an interesting premise: smaller weekly papers with local community news might survive better than larger dailies that rely more on wire and syndication material.

In the April 3, 2006 edition of The New Yorker, James Surowiecki wrote a piece on the newspaper crisis (lower readership and advertising is threatening the health of the industry).

"...newspapers remain a surprisingly robust industry and generate tremendous amounts of cash every year. Most of them have profit margins that dwarf those of the average company...the reach of newspapers remain huge. Daily circulation is around $51 million (not including online readers) giving the industry more customers than any other traditional media outlet."

Surowiecki blames Wall Street jitters as part of the reason that newspapers are seen in the same light as the ice man: a relic of the past.

Here's a key part of his piece: "For most newspapers [to play to their strengths], this will mean abandoning things that are ubiquitous on the Internet, like stock tables and wire stores, and investing in content they can own, like serious local coverage and in-depth reporting."

The other piece was a May 16th story from the Boston Globe's web site ( the Globe has seen considerable lay-offs in its news staff) about a company called Gatehouse Media spending $400 million to buy up 124 smaller papers in the Boston. The company believes that the smaller community paper can deliver "a highly targeted audience."

It's all about content, local content and many dailies do not seem to be able or willing to invest in it as they once did.

what I've seen succeed in my area is giving people content they are not getting from the television stations that promise local news and deliver almost everything but local news; radios stations that have walked away from local content with the exception of a morning show; and dailies that stretch their local content so much that people in one area are forced to read stories from an area that means nothing to them.

Local. Local. Local. That's my mantra. What's yours?

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. A gentle reminder: nothing I write here reflects the opinions of my employers, my staff, our advertisers or anyone but me.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

News judgment: the great puzzle

I just came from an event in Springfield that was attended my hundreds of residents and neighborhood activists and the leading Democratic candidate for governor. The event was sponsored by an organization made up of churches and labor unions and was calling for the Democratic and Republican candidates to come to town and express their feelings on a number of issues.

It was a rousing old fashioned grassroots event and a very good story.

Now one television station sent a full crew (reporter and camera operator) while another sent just a camera operator. The third station skipped the event. The one commercial station with a news department skipped it, while the NPR station located 20 miles away made a very rare appearance in the state's third largest city. I figure the second coming of Christ would be about the only thing that would compel the NPR types to abandon their politically correct studios in a comfy college town.

(Yeah, I'm bitter. They could be doing so much more for the communities they serve, but they chose not to...Play that classical music and jazz loud enough and you can mask what is really happening here.)

The daily sent two reporters. One who sat in the church with me but left at the end so he could make his deadline and another who was charged with meeting with the candidate after the event to ask questions about recently passed healthcare legislation. She was so aggressive she shut out the poor kid reporter from her paper's teen page. I had to smile a grim little smile.

And there was me.

Now why the daily didn't have a photographer amazed me. Why the other outlets didn't come amazed me. What kind of story the TV station could get from their time there I'm sure will amaze me.

The bottom line is that decision-makers at news outlets forget sometimes just why we are here: to be the eyes and ears of our consumers. We always have to ask ourselves "Is this of value to our readers/viewers/listeners?"

Instead too many of us in this business ask ourselves what is cheap and easy and quick for us to do. What's the best way to fill the pages or the air-time is not necessarily the most expedient way.

Hey, I know what the score is. I will use certain things to fill my pages, too. But I try to select things that will have meaning for somebody.

Here are the rules:
1. Get something others don't.
2. Stay until the end.
3. Be respectful of the candidate who is staying late to give you a quote. Remember if you harass him or her you might not get access next time.
4. Be prepared to shmooze a bit. You can get additional stories by honestly working a room.

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. All rights reserved. My bad.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Does Barney Frank think I care?

I'm not writing about some relationship problem. This is just a quick example of what I was writing about in the last post.

Congressman Barney Frank has become a fairly prominent member of the House. Why? He's an articulate and entertaining interview who always seems ready to express his views. Being an admitted gay man doesn't hurt his recognition level either.

Some might view him as courageous. Others might see him as a grandstander. All I know about him is that he has a lousy media staff.

The other day I received a 15-page fax about Frank's travel expenses. It was in response to the various concerns about travel abuse among members of Congress. He wanted to show that he hadn't taken advantage of the travel rules as some of his colleagues have accused of doing.

That's fine, but I don't care. He doesn't represent anyone who reads any of our publications. In fact his district is 60 or 70 miles away.

Now either his ego is so large that he think every newspaper in Massachusetts needs this info, or he has a staffer who believes this is a potential story for every media outlet in the state. I would like to think it's the latter.

All I know is this was a time and paper wasting exercise. Thank goodness we recycle at our office.

If a single p.r. person reads any of this and questions how they perform their jobs, I'll sleep well at night.

©Gordon Michael Dobbs. These are my words alone. Blame no on else.

Monday, June 12, 2006

What many public relations people don't know

I spent seven years as a p.r. guy at a small college. I had the best benefits of my life and the worst working conditions. It's where I developed stress-related conditions and diabetes. However I did my job well because I understood how the press works and what they need.

I'm very sympathetic to p.r. people and the ones that really want to work with you are worth their weight in gold. And I extend quite a bit of patience to the folks who are chosen by their church, club or non-profit to be the volunteer p.r. person.

I'm griping about the pros who should know better. I wish that many of the p.r. people who e-mail me, fax me, send me press releases by mail and then phone me could understand the following points:

1. Know the needs of the publication. I've got five publications I manage and write for. They have specific content needs. Please go to our web site and figure a few things out before you call me and ask me to cover something in Boston, over 70 miles away.

(By the way, please understand that an entire state does not revolve around its capitol, even if it's nick-named "The Hub.")

2. Please don't send me the same release all the ways possible. I hate plowing through the pile of stuff that gathers every day only to see the same thing repeated over and over.

3. Don't send multiple copies of the same release to me because there is more than one publication. Read the address!

4. Don't get mad when I tell you I can't speak to you about your release when I'm on a writing or lay-out deadline. I'm not snubbing you, honest.

5. Don't send us a release about a product unless you're prepared to send a sample of the product. If you want a story, then you have to send us the item.

6. Don't send me press advisories the day of an event. Even dailies need to plan ahead to make the best use of their resources. Weeklies are even under more pressure. Give us a week, please. Unless, of course, it's breaking news. Then, tell me early in the day.

7. Don't expect me to be a tear-sheet service. If I can delegate that task to someone I will, but having the story on the web site is proof of publication.

8. Play fair. Tell all the media at the same time about a story. Playing favorites will earn you no points, unless I'm the favorite.

9. Don't send me a clipping from another local paper and tell me I should run a story. I won't.

10. Give me a call and ask me questions about how to work together. I'm happy to discuss that with folks. Feel free to staple a $20 bill to your releases or wrap them around a nice cigar. That will cement the bonds for sure!

11. Pay no attention to the efforts of my evil side to suggest bribing me with money or tobacco. It's the fatigue talking.

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs who is solely responsible for the content of this column.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


The idea of this blog is to provide a place for print journalists working for small town dailies and weeklies to discuss the state of our corner of the industry, talk about problems we are facing in newsrooms, and offer solutions.

Frankly, I get tired to hearing pundits jabber about media trends and seldom, if ever, consider the backbone of the nation's press: the smaller market publications that are providing necessary community news people aren't getting elsewhere.

The fact of the matter is that more and more dailies try to compete against the Internet, magazines, television for readers they do so, in part, by cutting news resources for local coverage.

They type of community news the dailies use to cover has been greatly diminished. Weeklies have taken up the slack and in many markets are doing well because of the focus of their content.

But things could be better. What do you say?