Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A few tips: Giving the Press Herald a fighting chance

Published in the Portland Phoenix

There are, in fact, some pretty basic things that would help ensure the paper might have a chance.

STOP PRINTING THE INTERNET. The Press Herald — like many dailies — is filled with wire content, including sports scores and foreign news. But because of the timing of the newspaper deadline, any wire story in the paper is by definition at least 12 hours old. Some of it has been online worldwide for more than a day. To get a sense of the real value of any newspaper, take an issue or two of it and the same days' (or weeks') issues of any other papers covering similar turf. Then cross out every story that appears in more than one paper. What remains is what each paper actually brings you. For the Press Herald, the value is low — most of what's there can be gotten elsewhere, and often sooner. Stopping this redundancy will make everything in the paper an exclusive — just what readers need to get them picking up the paper again.

TAKE THE PAPER FREE. And once they want to pick up the paper, don't put a barrier up. The Press Herald is competing with large numbers of free papers, and isn't winning. If people still want home delivery, they can pay for that service — at a price that covers the total cost of paying drivers to get them there. Otherwise they'll need to pick up copies around town. (As for going online-only, as many newspapers are trying to do, the biggest problem is that it's hard to reverse. They should try sticking with print — though possibly less often than daily — first, and go online-only if they need to later.)

MAKE EVEN BIGGER COST REDUCTIONS. The union is already on board for a significant — at least 10 percent — cut in workforce, and probably a similar reduction in pay. But even more people will have to go. This will be made easier by a smaller paper that has only exclusive-to-itself news — no more editors need to "sit on the desk" waiting for wire copy to arrive. The newsroom will be a shadow of its former self, but the paper will be alive, and — most importantly — able to do what it needs to. And that's the final item in our recipe for survival.

START DIGGING UP REAL STORIES AGAIN. The poor sods running the show for the Blethens have gotten old, tired, or both, and some of their reporters have, too. It's long past time for the state's most widely read daily newspaper to actually be an aggressive, energized watchdog, looking out for the people of Maine.