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Newspaper wars reminiscent of simpler times

In a media landscape that increasingly follows the trend of one-newspaper towns, joint operating agreements and journalistic partnerships, a newspaper war occasionally erupts. Metaphorical eyes light up while headlines churn, reminiscent of the days when scoop-driven newspaper rivalries were the norm.

The latest newspaper war to turn heads began when Freedom Communications launched the Long Beach Register last month in Long Beach, Calif. The new daily has to compete with the already-established Press-Telegram, owned by MediaNews Group and managed by Digital First Media. The new paper prints five days a week and is wrapped as a 16-page section around the Orange County Register, giving subscribers both papers.

Various reports have both parties denying any newspaper war. According to USA Today, John Paton, CEO of Digital First, said “It may be a newspaper war for him [Aaron Kushner, CEO of Freedom Communications], but for us it’s a skirmish.” According to New York Daily News, Michael A. Anastasi, the vice president of news and executive editor of the Los Angeles News Group, which directly oversees the Press-Telegram, indicated the war was on: “We’re not going to let a competitor come into our city and take it,” he told the paper.

But the most interesting takeaway from Long Beach’s newest rivals is the figuresheads (Paton and Kushner), noted Rem Rieder of USA Today. Paton, who since taking over Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group, has aggressively approached the news with a digital focus, while Kushner, who purchased the Register and other properties last year, has been expanding regularly by adding print sections, new pages and new reporters. “What makes this looming confrontation even more intriguing is the fact that it pits against each other two of the most compelling figures in the newspaper business these days. It doesn’t hurt that they have completely opposite views of the world,” wrote Rieder.

Newspaper wars are not confined to California, however, and New Orleans has been no exception this past year. When the Times-Picayune dropped their daily print frequency down to three days a week, the Baton Rouge Advocate decided to take advantage of the irate readers who felt displaced by their daily newspaper. A year ago this month, The Advocate launched its own New Orleans daily edition, eventually enticing a number of Picayune staff members as well. If anyone had any questions on whether a newspaper war was being borne out there, one only need read the Advocate’s James Gill. Earlier this week, the columnist penned his latest, discussing how the Picayune scooped the New Orleans edition of The Advocate on a house fire. But he did so with thinly veiled sarcasm at the “absurdity” of such a story being played so prominently as the Picayune’s headliner.

“In these dog-eat-dog times the possibility of sensationalism can never be dismissed, so I read on. But the tantalizing headline was more than borne out. The effects of the flaming frying pan even extended beyond the kitchen; “light smoke damage” was also reported in the rest of the house. Readers who were eager to know the size of the house weren’t let down either. It measures 2,300 square feet.”

But Gill doesn’t mock without softening the blow: “Do not be shocked to read snide remarks. They figured prominently in the newspaper wars of old and kept the competitive juices flowing.”

In smaller communities, newspaper wars rage as well. Just take San Diego County’s backcountry, where Casey Jones and wife Lois launched two tabloids earlier this summer, The Borregan and the Julian Miner, pitting themselves against the Borrego Sun and Julian News. According to U-T San Diego, Jones used to work for the Sun and left after getting into a dispute with the owner, Patrick Meehan, over salary. In June, Meehan threatened to sue them, although it wasn’t clear exactly what for.

Although an email went unanswered to Jones at the time of this being printed, a cursory glance at their website shows they may be doing modestly well since they also launched a daily newspaper, the Daily Borregan, and plan to launch the Salton Seeker, a weekly targeting Salton City, Desert Shores, Salton Sea Beach, Vista del Mar, North Shores and Bombay Beach, Calif.

There are some who would say, however, that a little healthy competition never did anyone ill. And so it is in Prince William, Va., where two weekly papers launched earlier this year in the wake of the local Manassas News & Messenger folding. Times Community Media group launched the Prince William Times in January right around the same time Northern Virginia Media Services launched Prince William Today. The two companies also already compete in Loudon with the Loudon Times-Mirror and Leesburg Today. Prince William Times editor Bill Walsh told inVocus earlier this year that the community was receptive to their launch and downplayed any brewing war. “Competition is good in almost every business endeavor. It keeps you on your toes,” he said. But while it all appears to be friendly between the two papers, he noted that the Prince William Times had a broader range than Prince William Today, “including more outreach into the business community and into schools and sports. We have strongly covered PW [Prince William] government for years in Gainesville Times,” he said.

The most famous “war” is perhaps the longstanding rivalry between the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, who have historically vied to be top dog, not only city-wide, but nationally. While newspaper wars may be less common in an industry that is increasingly dynamic, old school newspaper feuds remind the reader and journalist of a time when scoops and accuracy outweighed how many clicks you could get. And perhaps of simpler times.

–Katrina M. Mendolera


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