We met a few weeks ago, at the press conference where you announced you had bought the Press Herald and its siblings. You may remember me — I'm the guy who, in a room full of reporters (including some from your own organization), was the only one who asked how much you paid. Of course I knew you would prevaricate, but these questions have to be asked.
You told me then that you had read some of my columns, which was nice of you to say. I'm going to take the extra step of sending this one directly to you, though, to be sure you don't miss it.
I want to tell you what people like me want from your paper. I've been blogging about this kind of stuff for a while now, and getting a lot of supportive responses from readers of mine who would like, one day, to be readers of yours as well. But you haven't seemed to react yet, so it's time for a serious call to arms.
I want to help you save the Press Herald — not despite the fact that I work at another publication in town, but indeed because of that. Maine's largest city needs a daily newspaper that lives and breathes the life of the people. Of course, it may well be too late to save the company, but it can't hurt to try.
I want to start you off gently: You, like every other news-industry executive, have found yourself running a niche publication, whether you think of it that way or not, whether you like it or not. Your daily papers are serving a small, if powerful, subsection of the community: self-appointed opinion leaders and news nerds, as well as policymakers and those who would influence them. A daily newspaper can no longer be all things to all people, so stop trying.
First up, stop printing the Internet. Next, consider your potential.
You could be the paper that, every day of the year, answers the following questions, which I first posed on thePhoenix.com/AboutTown back on July 8:
1) What was the most important thing that happened in Portland (or Maine) yesterday?
2) What is the most important thing that's going to happen in Portland (or Maine) today?
3) What have you chosen to address in-depth today, from among the most important issues facing Portlanders and Mainers down the road — whether short-, medium-, or long-term?
Sometimes a couple of those — or even all three — will overlap. That's fine. But if you can focus on those three things every single day, you will become an absolute can't-miss publication, every single day.
Sometimes — even many times — the "most important things" that happened or are about to will not be super-significant in a historic way. We can learn to trust your reporters when they say that such-and-such a story is the most important; we know Maine is the kind of place where earth-shattering stuff doesn't happen all the time.
But right now, your reporters don't always see potential in stories they're already doing, much less imagining anything bigger. Earlier this month, your front page had a press-release-based story about non-profits and state agencies buying fishing rights to help fishermen. It quoted one state official and three leaders of non-profits, but asked exactly zero fishermen whether the do-gooders' well-intentioned plan made any sense, or might actually help.
Simply put, you can't do that to us, your prospective readers. We're smarter than that, and if you're not, then we're smarter than you. Newspapers' stock in trade is being smarter, more thoughtful, and better informed. If you're not any of those three, you have nothing at all to sell. Good luck.