Thursday, October 16, 2008

The day the newspaper died

Shock, horror! Newspaper in trouble; editions close, staff go!
Hardly seems like news any more with the global recession and the march of the internet wreaking havoc in our industry daily. But when it happens to one of your own it all seems a bit too close to home.
I’m sad, angry and not a little perplexed at the latest turn of events at the East Valley Tribune in suburban Phoenix, Arizona – a title I edited 10 years ago. It was a feisty little upstart, biting at the bum of the giant metro Arizona Republic and prospered under both the benign management of Cox and the modernistic professionalism of Thomson.
It sold well in upscale Scottsdale, blue collar Mesa and in the new towns springing up in the desert like Gilbert and Chandler. It even had the university town of Tempe, home of Arizona State, bang in the middle of the patch.
Wind on 10 years and it’s suddenly downhill to giving up on Scottsdale and Tempe and going for a four day a week free distribution in what’s left. My successor in the editor’s chair is one of 46 casualties in the editorial department as the company sheds a total of 142 jobs in order to stay afloat.
The Trib’s own story spells out the details in a company announcement sort of way, but it’s left to the ‘alternative’ press to put some flesh on the bones. A blog from Ray Stern, a former Tribune staff reporter now at New Times (a sort of Private Eye meets Time Out), lists the staff going like a mournful memorial after an atrocity.
Some of the most interesting comments, though, come from readers (remember them, eh?) both on the Trib’s own site and at the Republic’s. They lament the passing of competition, recall ground-breaking investigations but also reflect on how slow newspapers seem to be at reacting to the threat – and therefore opportunities – of the internet.
Lessons here in the UK for our media businesses and the journalists who work for them. Be innovative, be bold and reinvent yourselves before you join my old pals Jim Ripley, Bob Satnan, Brad Armstrong, Paul Giblin et al on the sidelines looking in.

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