World of the newspaper war
As the number of e-readers launching grows by the day, the cleverly termed “tablet wars” dominate headlines. Another war, however, rooted in media history, continues to play out quietly: the newspaper war.
In early 2009, the Journal Register Company closed three weekly papers that served Connecticut’s Farmington Valley. As a result, two displaced employees decided to launch The Valley Press to fill the news hole by covering Avon, Burlington, Canton, Farmington and Simsbury in Hartford County. Not even a year later, JRC re-launched three papers in the same areas under their Foothills Media Group: Avon News, Canton News and Simsbury News. Next month they will also launch the Litchfield News.
Foothills Media publisher Matt DeRienzo said that despite the presence of The Valley Press, which covers multiple towns, there was a “hyperlocal” news void that needed to be filled in specific areas. “Readers are caught between mini-metros and nothing. There really is a tremendous niche for local news coverage,” he said. “We’ve operated in these communities before, but we’re finding a better model, one that is tied to online.” While the weekly print editions are packaged around the company’s advertiser, The Foothills Trader, each town’s paper has a dedicated Web site that contains “Web-first” news.
Coming up on its first birthday, Valley Press publisher Ed Gunderson said the paper has been well-received. And while they took note of JRC’s return to the area, he said he doesn’t believe they pose a threat. “They’re the Home Depot, we’re the local hardware store,” he said. “The Valley doesn’t have a Home Depot, there’s a reason for that.” Nevertheless, when the JRC papers first launched in December, the Hartford Courant reported that “locals have noticed the turmoil” between the newspapers. “I can’t keep track of all the startups and die-downs,” Avon town manager Phil Schenck told the Courant. “The only negative aspect will be if the advertising is siphoned off to too many papers. Then we don’t get any coverage.”
Across the country, other newspaper rivalries have also graced headlines. Over the summer, Wall Street Journal readers were entertained with the story of The Vineyard Gazette and Martha’s Vineyard Times, which traded biting commentary in a battle that has raged for a reported 30 years. Regardless of competing papers, Poynter Institute media business analyst Rick Edmonds said in an e-mail interview that he is still “skeptical that very many can buck the one-newspaper-town momentum, witness the closure of the new Detroit paper before it even published,” So while it’s obvious that wars between some weeklies in areas of the country wage on, feuds between dailies have become rare.
Then again, back in August Zachary Seward of Nieman Journalism Lab titled an article on one such battle between daily papers: “The NYT vs. WSJ: the quietest newspaper war in America.” Several months ago the two papers demonstrated the validity of the headline when they each launched editions of their papers in the same market. In November, The Wall Street Journal launched its Bay Area Edition in San Francisco following the New York Times’ debut of its Bay Area Report in October. “The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have always been competitive to a degree,” said Edmonds. “Clearly Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal has aspirations to take on the New York Times directly as a general interest national newspaper. I don’t think the New York Times folks are quaking or that their franchise on topics like politics or the arts is endangered.”
Meanwhile, a more contemporary type of newspaper war is theoretically in the works in Seattle. According to a Crosscut article, Hearst will include the online-only SeattlePI.com on its new e-reader, the Skiff, which is set to launch in coming months. The Skiff will reportedly “allow subscribing publications to tailor their own advertising, presumably letting them collect at least two new revenue streams for subscribers and readers,” wrote Crosscut writer Bill Richards. “That would once again put the e-reader-based P-I into head-to-head competition with the Seattle Times, which currently sells ads for both its print and Web-based news sites but has not announced any plans to offer news on an e-reader.”
It’s not news that daily newspaper wars have tapered off in past years as metros folded and content-sharing agreements ensued. But it is apparent that rivalries between papers still exist at weeklies and even among some dailies. Meanwhile, competition is alive and well as start-up nonprofit sites continue to launch, public radio stations take on a greater news orientation and television breaks news online throughout the day instead of waiting for the evening newscast, said Ken Doctor, an analyst with Outsell Inc. “It’s a time of increased competition, but it’s coming from separate kinds of companies,” he said. “Because online, everyone looks the same. And online, everyone has the same technology.”
— Katrina M. Mendolera
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