WHAT I wouldn't give to be writing about the
putting naked yoga on Page One this month.
Instead, we're back to the continuous struggle for survival, which is much less fun than naked anything. Last week, even more of the few, the proud, the staffers of the Daily News and the Inquirer were either bought out or laid off as the current management tries to tidy up the books for yet another set of new owners.
Among the missing will be the Inquirer's wonderful editorial cartoonist, Tony Auth, the talented and creative young visual artist Sarah Glover, whose work has been an ornament of both papers, a remarkable reporter and writer Natalie Pompilio, who has also contributed excellent work to both papers, and my friend Don Groff, a solid editor who also does fine photography.
Since the current dialogue seems to be made up of talking points, consider the following:
* Demoralized and frightened people do not do their best work. What you do with less is not more. It's less.
* The days of semi-obscene newspaper profits have been gone for nearly two decades. People who take the transition to digital seriously are using newsprint money to build a new presence on the Web, one that's essential and not subject to the usual newspaper limitations of neutrality and "good taste."
* Readers notice when you give them less and charge more for it.
* The newspaper (and the Internet) gives people choices. Some come for the cartoonist, others for the news or the food coupons. Everything that disappears makes some readers disappear as well.
* You can't build for the future by getting rid of both the relatively highly compensated veterans who have institutional memory and the cheaper (but less senior) young talents who are the future.
* There will be journalism. The question is who's going to do it and how they'll make money. If the bosses of the so-called "legacy media" can't figure out how to become a destination for their audience, someone else will.
* Other industries struggle for years to create brands. Newspapers that see only the immediate savings in combining resources and blurring their brands are damaging themselves. In other words, people who want the New York Times want the New York Times, no matter what venue they use to get it.
Newspapers for the most part have never been run by geniuses. Their publishers didn't spend money on research (with some exceptions, like the Knight-Ridder digital experiments that seem to have come too early). They spent precious little on self-promotion, contentedly raking in advertising revenue, blissfully unaware of what a newly efficient advertising circulation model directly targeting every home by ZIP code would do, let alone the Internet's destruction of pricing and distribution.
Talking about going digital is nowhere near enough. Nor is compromising the product to the point that it's embarrassingly similar to Huffington Post or some other shadow that offers nothing but opinion and news generated by others.
It doesn't do any good to bemoan the changes. It especially doesn't do any good to chip away at the edges of the budget (or the staff). What does help is the tabloid attitude the Daily News already has. What also helps is the kind of dedication and investment that Knight-Ridder put into its Project Alpha 30 years ago, when it captured (alas, temporarily) the circulation of the late Evening Bulletin.
Philly.com has to be a destination site for the region and, to some extent, the nation. That requires collaboration with news and opinion sources newspapers sometimes ignored and sometimes viewed as competitors. It requires flexibility and the ability to move quickly on the business side.
My new hometown newspaper, the relatively tiny Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, last year announced that it was making a profit on its Web presence. If you want to know what's going on in Grand Forks, Walsh and Polk counties, the Herald has made itself essential. There is much more than the print newspaper available on its website.
It gave my tabloid heart a thrill this past week seeing the moment of fame my friend Marilyn Hagerty, the 85-year-old Herald food critic and columnist, has enjoyed. Her review of the local Olive Garden has had about a million Internet hits. She's been featured on the "Today" show, CNN and the New York Times. The newspaper has ridden the story like the Daily News does an Eagles Super Bowl appearance.
And it's all because she reflects the sensibility of her community in an engaging, honest manner. If you want to know whether the Olive Garden has a nice ladies' room, she'll tell you. Cuisine isn't her thing; service is.
And she hasn't been laid off.