Hearne: Karen Dillon / USA Today Transform Lawrence Journal World

IMG_0835It’s not easy being a newspaper…

While any number of them such as the Kansas City Star remain “profitable” – arguably anyway – they’re no longer insanely profitable like many had been for well over half a century.

Noop, it’s an altogether different world and the only way papers like the Star have been able to hold their heads above water is by cutting, slashing and burning – month after month, year after year – from more than 2,000 employees to probably around 400 and change.

In human terms the toll has been catastrophic with careers cut short and individuals and families forced to endure sudden, unforeseen financial hardships.

The flip side of which is subscribers have been forced to make a Hobson’s Choice:

Either settle for far less in terms of news reporting and content, or do without entirely. Because no matter how you cut the cake, television and radio don’t come even close to providing the sort of local coverage that even small town newspapers typically serve up.

And yet after more than two decades of searching for answers, big city newspapers by and large have yet to come up with a solution to their money problem. That being, how to replicate the obscene profits they make in print in online advertising.

The Internet being the great equalizer, newspapers cannot extort advertisers online like they have for decades in print. So as they’ve continued to cut and cut and offer less while charging more, many print subscribers have cut the cord – opting instead to read the online headlines for free and accept the meager handful of freebie, monthly clicks.

And while the Star continues to reshuffle its diminishing deck, no amount of added white space and reader-pleasing larger typefaces can make up for the missing content.

That said, the lowly Lawrence Journal World seems to be onto something.

Despite being weighted down by the same unfortunate economics as the Star and having cut its news staff to the bone, in three important ways the small town rag is actually offering a better end product to its readers and subscribers.

Let’s take a look.

For starters, whereas the Star’s investigative reporting ranks have been majorly depleted, the Journal World has signed laid off Star staffer Karen Dillon, the area’s top investigative reporter.

And what a signing!

With her back to a wall, a highly motivated Dillon has swacked any number of important investigative stories out of the park – and at a far greater pace and frequency than during her tenure at 18th and Grand.

pepsi-in-2015-1024x567From taking controversial Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to task, nailing KU and basketball coach Bill Self for the school’s ridiculous private jet deal and – more recently – blowing the lid off a scandal pertaining the local school district getting an exemption from city inspections; net result, a 350 pound gate fell on an 8-year-old boy who had wandered onto a construction site, breaking bones and collapsing the top part of his lungs.

And just like that, suddenly a small town daily with a circulation of maybe 10,000 and change is kicking butt and taking names.  While the Star dishes up syndicated front page stories about shooting rampages written by Associated Press reporters.

In addition, earlier this summer the Journal World added a special USA Today section.

While that may sound mundane, trust me it’s not.

In one fell swoop Journal World readers and subscribers were treated to an excellent array of news and entertainment offerings by some of the nation’s top journalists. Unique stories like today’s, “8 Lessons Learned from a Music Festival” by USA Today columnist Emily Brown, how the month of October can be stock market crash prone but also a “bear killer,” Pepsi is releasing a commemorative “Back to the Future” collectible bottle, a review of CHVRCHES killer new synth pop album and how Matt Damon’s new movie “The Martian” kicked butt at the box office.

The Journal World‘s new USA Today section was an unexpected treat that added big time value in a way the Star has yet to come up with. Naturally, the overall local news content of the Lawrence paper pales by comparison to Kansas City’s. However it’s a town of less than 100,000 people versus nearly 2 million, what would you expect?

But frankly, if you want to halfway be on top of what little local news there is in Lawrence – and can stand some of the thinnest, weakest hometown sports journalism and reporting going – the Journal World’s the only game in town.

And finally non print subscribers can partake of the Journal World’s online content free of charge.

As with the Star, online Journal World readers can scan stories at no cost. However, instead of being limited to a small handful of free reads each month, the entire content is available without having to pay.

The catch?

You have to answer a half dozen or so goofy advertiser-oriented questions about topics like, “Have you ever rented an RV? Was it a positive experience? Where did you go in it? What did you like most about the trip? Etc, etc, etc.

Totally annoying, but the price is right.

So let’s review…

In Kansas City readers are being made promises about how much edgier the Star’s reporting is going to become, while getting more white space, larger print and repackaged graphics for snoozer columnists like Mary Sanchez. Whereas Lawrence has landed the area’s top investigative reporter, added  an excellent USA Today section and is providing non subscribers a way to read its content online free of charge.

Oh, and as Steve Jobs used to say, one more thing…

Owing to its flagging financial fortunes, the Journal World shuttered its aged printing press and is now being printed in far higher quality by the Star’s $250 million press. And guess what? Somehow or another the Journal World even manages to get those late night Royals baseball results into its print editions – the ones the Star runs two days later.

Go figure.

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36 Responses to Hearne: Karen Dillon / USA Today Transform Lawrence Journal World

  1. SteelyDanMan says:

    “Meager handful of monthly freebies.”

    It’s called erasing your cookies and deleting your cache under your browser’s settings. There’s always a loophole when it comes to computers.

    I’ll tell you how dead tree can remain viable, though: Content. You already said this with Dillon, too. Czar, take note.

    Cease the slanted drivel mandated by corporate and go back to old school journalism (but not the ‘yellow’ kind), Murrow style (yes, I know he was a broadcaster). People want to read stories that reveal what’s really going on in their neck of the woods rather than filtered puff pieces that are screened by an institution’s PR arm. Bring back some damn objective reporting besides rewriting a press release.

    Hoops is a middle school columnist, Sanchez is actually a propagandist on some think tank’s dime and Yael always has an ax to grind with Kansas. Last time I checked it was Kansas City, Missouri. Oh, tax breaks. My bad.

    • kriskle says:

      This may come as a shock to some people here, but newspapers have been bleeding subscribers for decades, ever since the rise of TV news and baby boomers coming of age. And newspapers for decades have rethought, redesigned and done repeated makeovers of both content and style all in a futile attempt to attract younger readers before their older readers die off.

      Think about the demise of the evening newspaper. When did that begin to happen?

      Giving non-subscribers free access to your content online? Really, Hearne? You think that’s a good idea? As I recall, that was the business model of every newspaper, including the KC Star, ever since they went online. And guess what? They discovered they were losing even more subscribers who preferred to read a story online far earlier than the Star would throw it on their front lawn.

      Also realize that the era of cutting staff didn’t start recently, not even at the Star. Right after Cap Cities bought the paper way back in ’77, wasn’t there a major bloodbath? Did not the same bloodbath repeat itself every time the paper was sold?

      You might also consider the demise of the TV networks for the very same reason local newspapers are declining. There are just more and more places to spend your advertising dollar — and to target it specifically to the audience you are trying to reach.

      Face it, you can say that simple, vague solutions like “old school” journalism and hiring more staff to provide more content as the red ink gets deeper and deeper is the way to go. But try going back and reading a random copy of the KC Times or Star from 50 years ago. Ugh!

      Now tell me that’s going to bring back the younger readers who are plugged in 24/7 with their Smartphones and tablets and laptops.

      That’s the future of journalism today, folks. It costs a whole heck of a lot of money to deliver a newspaper to your lawn, and far fewer people today are interested in going out in their bathrobe and slippers to pick it up.

      We’re going digital, and that will be unencumbered by the physical limitations of a news hole to fit stories into.

      • SteelyDanMan says:

        So, basically what you’re trying to say is that newspapers should just hang it up for good? That they’re on the way of being the next telegram or typewriter? Good thing I got fired from my reporting gig, then.

        • kriskle says:

          What I am trying to say is that contrary to Hearne’s constant theme, the Star isn’t uniquely stupid, nor is the Lawrence Journal-World uniquely brilliant. They are both going the way of the buggy whip.

      • admin says:

        Hey Kriskle:

        Yeah, newspapers have been losing subscribers for years , but nothing like the past handful. And up until 2007/2008 they were still minting money.

        I’m not suggesting the Star give non subscribers free access, just noting that the Journal World found a way to pull it off.

        They do it by requiring readers to answer a series of annoying questions. It’s lame, but at least there is a pathway.

        As for my “constant theme” that the Star is “uniquely stupid,” that’s not my theme. Because the Star is the local news media of record, I write about them – focus on them – instead of lumping in other newspapers from around the country.

        However, come to think of it, in some ways they are uniquely stupid. Based strictly on a number of their lame decsisons. They’re far from the only newspaper suffering thru tough times and changing reader habits, but they do make any number of poor business and editing decisions – which are in fact uniquely theirs.

        • kriskle says:

          Hearne, you cannot write about the Star in a vacuum while ignoring the industry wide decline in the print product. Good gravy, the New Orleans Times-Picayne heroically won Pulitzers for its coverage of Katrina, then promptly ceased daily publication.

          You also cannot focus solely on the Star’s print product while ignoring the thousands of readers who read their product online. By far, kansascity.com is the No. 1 Web site in KC, and that’s the direction they are heading, while building a printing plant that is pretty locking up all the print business in a rather broad area — including the Lawrence Journal-World.

          As far as their poor business and editing decisions that are “uniquely theirs”, what are they? Firing you? Trimming the staff of its most senior and expensive hands as they near retirement?

          Cold and cruel, to be sure. But are they the only newspaper doing this?

          Or do you even know with your focus solely on the “local media”?

  2. Furioso says:

    I hear the KC Star’s Royals beat reporter Andy McCullough is OUT immediately after the postseason. Gotta be a good story there somewhere.

    • Phil says:

      Go on…

      • Furioso says:

        Andy has been giving some subtle..and some not so subtle..hints via his tweets. The first sign of trouble was Aug 25th when he completely stopped tweeting during the Royals game and then came back and said he was contractually obligated to tweet that nights game. He obviously was very upset.

        You could tell he was really depressed or angry and although he’d been moody before this was when it seemed he either quit(due to low pay/no pay raise no doubt) or he was fired. After reading tens of thousands of Andy’s tweets you get to know the guy.

        Even more telling–Andy just tweeted this 2 days ago, on the eve of the Royals last regular game of the season: “As Game 162 approaches, I wanted to say thanks to everyone for following along this year. You only have to tolerate me for one more month”.

        Obviously Andy is GONE less than a month from now. We just don’t know if he quit or got fired..Yet.

        • Phil says:

          Interesting reading of the tea leaves. I take that last tweet to mean the playoffs will be over around the end of October, then he won’t have to tweet games. I see lots of sports writers tweet similar things at the end of the season. In any event, it’ll be interesting to see how things shake out.

          I think he’s been a refreshing voice on the Royals beat. While he waffles between snarky/condescending and knowledgeable on Twitter, I think his reporting has been good, and lively. Bob Dutton, to his credit, had to find a new way to write about losing every day. Andy’s had a lot more to work with, but his reports have also been a lot more interesting.

          • Furioso says:

            Thankfully I’m usually wrong on my predictions. I think Andy’s done a great job here in KC and if he leaves I’ll be P.O’d.

            I’m usually the cynic but it’s weird between me and the Star sports desk. They seem to be chugging along nicely without Babb, Teicher, Poz, Manley, Whitlock etc.

    • admin says:

      McCullough would be a huge loss because he has done an exceptional job on the Royals as many of you have noted.

      Yeah, the sports desk is chugging right along, but I’d hardly say the loss of some of those named writers has gone unnoticed. The Star circulation isn’t just dropping by accident.

      • Phil says:

        I stand corrected, as McCullough tweeted today he’s leaving to join the L.A. Times as their Dodgers beat writer. Perhaps the next Royals beat writer won’t be so derisive towards fans (and readers!) on Twitter.

  3. Slugggerrrrr says:

    i heard he stole johnny cueto’s training bra and did a little dance for Yael

  4. chuck says:

    The moribund, K.C. Star, continues it’s inexorable descent into ever increasing irrelevance, with ever decreasing subscriptions, the rails greased by the Pulitzer Prize like genius of Yale, Doogood and Osteracerheiser.

    While we “little people” pay taxes to support this corrupt, venal, agenda driven excrescence on the city’s azz, the “swells” fart through silk and toast the local Fascists who support the national Fascists. It’s all about who you know and if you don’t have the cash to continue as a viable business, but are ensconced in the arms of a Liberal Local Government, then you just steal the money from folks who work, to pay the bills.

    • Jim a.k.a. BWH says:

      So you’re not a fan, Chuck? Just checking.

      • chuck says:

        I can’t concentrate, just to the right of your comment, is a picture of a guy in a Superman Outfit with X-Ray Glasses. Apparently, you can buy them in Lawrence. While I am there, I will pick up a copy of the Lawrence Journal World, it sounds like a pretty decent fish wrap.

        • admin says:

          The Journal World is nothing to write home about really, Chuck…

          But as a small town newspaper, they get the basics out and that USA Today section really made up for a lot of its obvious deficiencies.

          The Sports section is basically a joke though. Homer city.

    • That’s a great business plan Chuck. I talked to Harley about it and he thinks I should open a Car Wash next to his house in Grandview. I am not crazy about Duck Road, there is no traffic, but having a maven/mensch on a bench like Harley over seeing the operation is a sure fire guarantee of a “Tulipomania” success.

      By the way Chuck, if you want the inside info on “Tulipomania”, then go to “lawdylawdyforlife.con”.

      • chuck says:

        All ahead flank Emanuel, you know what they say, “The 2nd time is a charm”.

        Mazel.

      • Grandview Zoning Commission says:

        Mr. Cleaver,
        We believe do not believe there are suitable properties on Duck Rd. to build a carwash, whether next door to this fictitious Harley you refer to or not. Perhaps you could convince us to issue eminent domain and rip down a half a block’s worth of houses for your new venture.

        • Sly, you silver tongued devil, are you running Grandview too?

          • HarleyKittyScrotum says:

            Ewe guys…
            stop. Eye dont live in Grandview
            I have a fabulous mantion and art collketion
            in my home you blu coller guys
            will never see.
            I no thats you, chuck, acting like
            someone else butt you

            can’t fool me.
            Im
            Always write, one hunderd percent of the time, all the time always.
            You all kan suck it.

    • heaarley says:

      chucks house has dug hole in front of it…saw it on google earth…
      I’d would never bring anhone over to my house to visit…
      its a real dog house!!!!
      It you want to see the dog house go to law4life1000@yahoo.com./
      what a beautiful example of a dogpatch house.
      evenvbill berg wouldn’t go there!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11111111111111

  5. CFPCowboy says:

    There is a world of difference between a small community newspaper, published once per week and a major daily publication, but even the local papers are in trouble. The local papers cover the high school teams, community leaders, and community events. It is generally published and edited by a local octogenerian, and it is profitable, by experience. The knowledge of what works disappears when the paper is sold, eith to a conglomerate or to a non-local publisher, someone who produces no more than eight pages per week. The Pleasant Hill paper sold last week, as one of the profitable sheets in the area. After the Missouri Democrat was sold to McClatchy, it ceased being either good or profitable, as Kansas City controled what Harrisonville saw. There is no one path to success or failure in the newspaper business, and there is no guarantee that what will be suuccessful today won’t be a loser tomorrow. When it comes to news, I won’t be betting. We all pick and choose our messages, from Vox to Fox. There is bias in everything we see and hear. It is up to news to give us the facts inthe way we want to receive it, at a price that is lower than it has ever been. Good luck to anyone graduating in journalism today. Expect the roller coaster.

    • paulwilsonkc says:

      You are 100% correct. I write for a number of papers in the GateHouse publishing chain. After their bankruptcy, GH went out and bought all the small town papers they could find. There’s still growth there, as in those communities, they want their morning coffee at the table while reading the paper and getting black ink on their hands to start the day.
      But even still, many of those are going to 2 or 3 times weekly, no longer daily publications.

    • kriskle says:

      Yeah, but the problem of small community newspapers is also they constantly cycle through a young staff that is working ungodly hours to provide all that local coverage, going to city council, school board meetings, and covering those local high school sports teams, while they are making a salary that they can’t live on while paying off a lug of college student loans.

      And when the octogenarian editors goes off to his great reward, then what? You got to find someone who knows the community as well as he/she did, and that won’t be easy.

      Another problem is that small community newspapers are at the mercy of a handful of advertisers. Go read one of them and find out how much of their content is devoted to “advertorial” to please some guy. And Lord help them if they write about the grand opening of the new hardware store, and raise the ire of long-standing advertiser Joe’s Hardward.

      • paulwilsonkc says:

        You too are correct. I got yanked from a well know 100 year old paper because one of my humor pieces hit too close to home for a city big wig! Its part of the game.

        • SteelyDanMan says:

          Outhouse, err, Gatehouse, Paul? Examiner or Leavenworth?

        • hou eaarley says:

          no one reads that stuff….its fullof holes like swiss
          cheese.
          I’ve ripped every one of you “experts” apart and made
          you look really really bad because you don’t know
          anything.
          a 100 year old paper…what was it….OLD TIME FROM
          THE 1900’S?
          GIVE ME ABREAK….PLEASE….YOUR JOKES
          ARE GOING DOWNHILL SINCE YOU THOUGHT
          YOU SAW A PE(((!
          WOW….THERE’S PROBLEMS THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Rainbow Man says:

    I can predict in advance what every Mary Sanchez column will be before it even runs. She is liberal Captain Obvious…. and I am very liberal and still can’t handle her mundane paragraphs. It is quite evident that what keeps her around is her acceptance of bad pay and blind loyalty to bad management.

    • chuck says:

      “Bad pay”?

      She probably makes 65K at least.

      Show me the money! I would bet that I and most of the commenters here at kcconfidential, sans diarrhea mouth, could come home from a hard day at work and in 20 minutes, pump out some bullsh*t Liberal cant that related to local events.

      Here, let me give it a shot.

      —————————————————————————————

      “BLACK LIVES MATTER ON THE PLAZA”

      While some decry the lack of progress made in the glorious struggle, started so long ago, by the intrepid Martin Luther King, we can all take note of the “Struggle” by individual heroes who still live each day in honor of that great man. 10 days ago, 6 victims of “White Privilege” were ‘Micro-Aggressed” and reacted with actions that should get the attention and accolades of all who still suffer under the weight of racism every day in their lives. Outside of a restaurant on the Plaza, 6 black men, accosted, assaulted and held white feet to the fires of retribution in a glorious, morally relevant payback for slavery. The white soldier, who was subjected to this black blood libel debt, is now, recovering (And, we can all hope, repenting.) in the hospital after his aggression towards a brave and wronged insurgent in the undeclared, low level, civil war being fought in the streets of America. There is at least one white woman, who will now keep her mouth shut the next time she is the object of attention from our bruthas in arms. It’s a small step and we have come a long way, but still have a long way to go.

      We can all be encouraged by the actions of the Police Department, who, will make no arrests and have returned the credit card to this brave insurgent. What would really be salve on the wounds of this intrepid hero, would be a gift certificate for a free dinner and drinks to the combatants forced into action on that historic night. A “Go Fund Me” site in now set up, to get the families of the victims (The bruising on the knuckles is extensive and will require surgery.) through until litigation is initiated.

      POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

      ——————————————————————————————-

      It goes on and on and on and on…

      Where is my check?

      • admin says:

        I wouldn’t be so sure about that $65,000 number, Chuck, but it’s possible. I was one of very few writers at the Star to top six figures (along with Whitlock and Posnanski). And while that number is possible – and Sanchez gets by to no small extent on being a woman and a minority – that seems a tad high to me., Especially given her skill sets and readership.

        • chuck says:

          Hmmmm…

          She, no doubt thinks, that she should be pulling down a phone number.

        • kriskle says:

          So they paid you in excess of six figures to write a gossip column about the same handful of people a few times a week, and you think they make poor business decisions NOW?

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