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.
From 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.
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.