Friday, December 17, 2010

A Groupon Too Far?

Nothing Wrong with Trying, But....

Semi-full disclosure: I'm a fan of Groupon, have even seized on a few deals. It and a half-jillion other social shopping sites now clog my in-box daily. No big whoop. Thrill of the hunt and all. But you have to wonder if some of Groupon's 3,000-plus sales force is trying, too hard. Or, maybe, not hard enough.

Exhibit A: Today's Manhattan offer is for a weekend stay at a Days Inn. In the South Bronx. It's touted as being near Yankee Stadium. Too bad we're over four months from Opening Day. Now there has been a trendlet in the lodging industry in the New York area toward more motels being built in the boroughs, some in places you might not think to stay in or really want to rest your head. But the thinking is, people still come to those neighborhoods to visit friends and family. Or, are just suckers for a good deal and don't mind a little adventure.

But a Days Inn? In the South Bronx? Good luck with that, hopefully better than what the Yankees had with Cliff Lee.
As of this writing, four people had seized on the offer, 11 shy of the 15 needed to make it active. But before you take the plunge, bear in mind that New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day are blacked out. Because nothing says love like an evening stroll on Brook Avenue.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Why is Henry Freeman Smiling?

Sure, It Didn't Help That He Worked For Gannett, But He Did Preside Over a Paper That Imploded on His Watch

When the news came down that Henry Freeman would be retiring/pushed out as executive editor of The Journal-News, the newspaper by default in New York's northern suburbs and a long-ago employer of mine, it was hardly a shock.

After all, the paper is a daily exercise in extreme mediocrity. Not that it was ever a great paper--few in the Gannett stable can ever hope to be when corporate is squeezing every pore for profits at the expense of the product--but at least it made an attempt to cover its territory. Every town had a reporter assigned to it, while high school sports received blanket coverage. Even most of the pro teams had beat writers.

Suffice to say that train left the station a long time ago. The train analogy is actually more than apt. Freeman, according to the article/quasi-eulogy about his departure, is a big rail buff, and will soon embark on a 7,500-mile trip. It'll be one where he'll never have to read The Journal-News. That'll mean he'll have a lot in common with people in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties.

I did a little poking around for some old circulation figures and stumbled upon the ABC Fas-Fax numbers from March 2006, when daily sales were over 141,000. Fast forward to the latest tally from the end of October, and the J-N has dipped below 80,000. That's nearly a 47 percent decline--in three-and-a-half years.

Of course, the newspaper industry has been reeling for much of that time, so Freeman can't get all the blame for that drop. But he also didn't do anything to ameliorate the situation. On his watch the news hole shrunk. So did the physical size of the paper.

There was less room than ever for copy, yet Gannett had the cojones to raise the newsstand price. Meanwhile, the slow-to-update website remains, at best, an afterthought. It's just like most other Gannett papers, which have the same desultory, cookie-cutter design online.

Meanwhile, the staff has suffered one round of cutbacks after another. Except when there is breaking news, reporters are now only covering parts of the counties where the J-N still sells papers. Otherwise, you're out of luck, though it seems every stabbing in Yonkers and Mount Vernon is dutifully recorded. The J-N is doing the local weeklies and Patch a deep favor while digging its own grave one shovel full of dirt at a time.

So, again I ask, why is Henry Freeman smiling?