No Way Mercury-News Readers Come Out Ahead Regardless of Final Decisions
Reading Howie Kurtz's piece today in The Washington Post about the San Jose Mercury News' furious attempts to reinvent itself and I wasn't sure whether to just bang my head against the wall or let out a few sobs in solidarity to those left in the newsroom.
It wasn't enough to halve the editorial staff to 200. Now, according to Kurtz, two-thirds of those left will eventually be left working on the online edition. Those who remain will be stewards of a dramatically scaled-down version of the Merc, once the undisputed 800-pound media gorilla of Silicon Valley.
Now? Don't ask. Since its acquisition by MediaNews, the sole objective of its chief Dean Singleton has been to figure out a way to weasel out of union contracts rather than contemplate the best way to put out a viable newspaper. And it shows.
The latest efforts certainly don't sound encouraging. Nor does Executive Editor Carole Leigh Hutton. "We have to have a print product that requires fewer people and less newsprint."
Consider one prototype being considered, where the Merc becomes just three sections: Live, Play and Innovate.
As I've acknowledged before, nobody disputes the Merc faces a myriad of problems, its myopic management among them. Trying to think of a new way to do things may be the only option left.
However, we're still at a point in time where a newspaper's print version is still the straw stirring the online version's drink.
To allocate most of your staff to the Web site and dessicate your newspaper is foolhardy at best. Do any of these focus groups that have slammed the current state of the Merc take a look at how much time people actually spend reading the paper online? And when they read are they really reading, or just skimming?
Would the Merc stoop to serve that clientele, and offer up reportage that's even thinner than it is now?
Dressing up a story with video, a photo gallery, blogs and a podcast sounds great -- at least conceptually. Getting people to actually do something with all that information is another matter. So is assuming that most of your audience is willing to once and for all totally forsake its bond with the print version. In 2007, that's an overly bold assumption.
Kurtz mentions the number of people bitching about the cutbacks in comics and how hard it is to find the puzzles. Something is lost when you don't have a pencil in your hand while being tortured by Sudoku or the Saturday New York Times crossword. They're not meant to be solved staring at a computer screen. It just doesn't feel right.
But then again, neither does what's happening to the San Jose Mercury-News.