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Like a nose job, but with paper 

I've been thinking of getting some work done. Yeah, I know we're supposed to be happy with the nose and chest and lips and gut and butt and all of the other assorted parts we were born with, but I'm just not satisfied. Call me shallow. Seriously. I've been called worse.

It must be something in the air. Or the water. Whatever it is, it's making people tighten their belts, or at least wish that they could. I'm not immune. Neither is the daily paper of record in the county.

"We've had some work done " is exactly the way The Tribune announced the disturbing changes that are happening there. The words make the whole process sound like a boob job, and maybe that's appropriate because it sure sounds like the goal is to have more plastic content and less actual flesh and blood.

The way The Trib announced the changes coming to its paper, you'd think everybody there is breathlessly excited about them. As a reader, I'm not. Well I am, but probably not for the reasons they'd hope. The big change-up gave me something to write about this week.

Here's the gist of the changes, according to the "Dear Readers" letter from Executive Editor Sandra Duerr:

Fewer pages. Duerr's words: "By streamlining the print version, we reduce some work and we save on our most expensive cost after payroll the price of newsprint. We are eliminating about three pages a day on average."

Well, I suppose congratulations are in order! Way to go. Fewer pages so you save money. Brilliant. Think of how much you'd save if you didn't run a paper at all!

I imagine there were a few nervous flinches in the newsroom at that whole "after payroll" part. If they don't have as much space, will they be needing so many writers and editors? They cost less than paper, I hear, at least when you're paying for raw materials by the square foot. Or maybe I'm thinking of tri-tip. Whatever.

Less actual news. Her words again: "In addition, because no one wants to read in their Tribune national/world news that they've already heard, we select stories from our wire services that add depth, textures and analysis to the news summaries found online or heard over the airwaves."

That's right, we're not even supposed to expect that our local paper would tell us what's going on in the larger world. Surely you'd look elsewhere for that sort of thing! No, we'll just give you a few chin-stroking thinky pieces aperitifs to go along with the main diet of news we expect you'll get from somebody else.

They're already doing it. The day after the Minneapolis bridge collapsed screaming front page news in the world at large the Tribune covered the entire matter with four paragraphs. Thanks for the texture and analysis!

Fewer sections. The local and business sections will now be combined, and on Mondays even the front section will be thrown in there a sort of Pangaea of news. Duerr said they ran the idea by focus groups, but didn't get the answer they wanted: "They were admittedly less enthusiastic" about the fewer sections, she said, but thanked the market researchers for at least explaining the idea.

Let me personally thank you as well: Thanks for telling us the bad news. Oh, and thanks to whoever dinged my car door the other day.

More celebrity news. Every day of the week is now getting its own "Living" section, which comes complete with a special section on celebrity gossip. And that comes in addition to the celebrity gossip that will still be on A2 of every paper. Couldn't they all go in one place? Nope, Duerr said: "This information doesn't arrive from our news wires until after our early deadlines for the Central Coast Living tab."

The only way to make sense of the breathlessly optimistic tone that this is all conveyed in is that they looked at their newish front page feature: "The Two-Minute Trib," which I can't imagine anyone past elementary school taking more than 30 seconds to read, and thought: "Two minutes is way too long."

Shorter is better. Less is more.

And I thought McClatchy was the good chain.

The Tribune has real issues to deal with. Circulation is down four percent in the last year alone and the housing slump surely isn't going to help their advertising revenue. But I think they somehow decided that fewer people want real news. That's where I believe they've made the error. I'll bet most of the four percent who dropped them did so because they were convinced they weren't getting enough real news to begin with. Probably two percent are now subscribers to the L.A. Times, which you can get delivered to your doorstep around here. Just don't come out and get it in your bathrobe or underwear unless you've had some work done yourself.

But the idea of people wanting more pages and more news isn't a viable option to the bottom liners at the media chains. That would take more pages and more reporters. And that would only cost them more money, so what's the point? "What next?" the penny-counters grumble. "Tri-tip for the whole staff?"

On second thought, if the people who run The Tribune really believe that less is more, maybe they're making the right decision. Maybe less a lot less of that paper really would be better.


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