Friday, August 29, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

No blood in ants, just on the streets of Detroit

Detroit newspaper move: The little guy gets screwed

No blood in ants, just on the streets of Detroit

 

Is this the wave of the future? The two daily newspapers in Detroit, the News and the Free Press, will only deliver the paper to subscribers on three most popular days, Thursday. Friday and Sunday. There will still be slimmed down papers on the other days, available on newsstands. In theory, the move will also mean greater emphasis on delivering news online.

Some are hailing this as a bold move, but let's be honest: Necessity was the mother of invention here, just as it usually is what that other product that they used to make a lot of in Detroit. A truly bold move would have been to radically change the papers to adjust to the Internet back when they were still making profits over 20 percent, but instead "change" is the result of a near-death experience:

 The decision to abandon seven-day home delivery in Detroit was not a bold strategic initiative but a last-ditch effort to save two failing newspapers, according to one former Gannett executive.

“The choice was to shut down or to try to salvage the newspaper,” said the former executive, who was familiar with the months-long deliberations earlier this year that resulted in the decision to scrap home delivery four days a week at the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News.

The radical
plan, which is likely to cost some 190 people their jobs by March, was not as much a carefully conceived business decision as it was an act of desperation, said the executive, who declined to be identified because he did not want to compromise continuing business relationships.

I have a couple of thoughts. Journalistically, this could be a good idea if there's a real commitment to re-thinking both the online (or digital) News and Free Press, as well as a re-thinking of what goes in the three days of home delivery. Hopefully, the three most widely read print editions will be home to longer-form journalism -- less breaking news but more cutting-edge analysis and opinion, with great narrative story telling and some investigative scoops. And the online version should look more like the mythical "norg" that a bunch of journalists here in Philly discussed way back in 2005 -- a real community between the professional journalists that remain and the citizens who care most about news in the Detroit community.

The other thing is this: It's the little guy that always gets screwed -- even in the newspaper world. The real savings of eliminating home delivery comes on the backs of the little-discussed blue-collar side of newspapers. There are the guys and gals who man the printing presses and drive the delivery trucks -- identical cousins to their Michigan neighbors getting squeezed out of the auto assembly line down the road. The people who do the heavy lifting -- and yet it's always Passover when the federal bailout man comes around. If we really want to transition the newsroom into the 21st Century, and we do, we should have some thoughts for how to help the folks on the other end, too.

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Will Bunch
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