All Paper, No News
December 23, 2008
People who are into journalism and newspapers and the web and the death of print have been all a-twitter over the NY Times story today about the triCityNews, a little alt-weekly in Monmouth County, New Jersey.
I spent a good bit of time in Monmouth County years ago, when I was a consultant and had a client there, but unfortunately my tenure in the area predates the triCityNews' era of journalistic service to the community. So I was interested to see what was so notable about this little paper.
The Times bemusedly profiles the little alt because, it claims, the triCity "shuns" the web. They quote Dan Jacobson, owner and publisher of the paper, at some length in the piece. I've concatenated all of Jacobson's quotes in the article together here.
Why would I put anything on the Web? I don’t understand how putting content on the Web would do anything but help destroy our paper. Why should we give our readers any incentive whatsoever to not look at our content along with our advertisements, a large number of which are beautiful and cheap full-page ads? [W]e want people to think of Asbury Park as the center of the universe.
I don’t allow our name to be used on any kind of content on the Web — not bulletin boards or listings or anything. I don’t want anybody to connect The TriCityNews and the Internet. I don’t want anything that detracts from the paper and the presence of those big, beautiful full-page ads.
There may come a time when the Web is all there is, and we will try to adapt, and if we don’t, well, hey, we had a great run. But right now, the Web makes no business sense for us.I just get on the Web site [of other newspapers], I look at what I need to and I never look at the ads.
Right after we started, the dot-com bust happened and we have been running scared ever since. We live off the land and run it very lean. There is no debt, our office in downtown Asbury Park is very small, and we have never raised our rates, so people tend to stick with us regardless of what is happening in the economic cycle. All of us are pretty happy with our lifestyles — I was able to quit practicing law quite a few years ago — and are thankful that we seem to have secure jobs and what seems to be a good future in a pretty tough industry.
In all of his quotes about the web and his business model and other newspapers and his big, beautiful full-page ads, Dan Jacobson never once mentions serving his community, researching a story, publishing information of any utility or value to his audience, or actually committing any act of journalism.
That's not to say Jacobson doesn't value journalism. It's just that it's absolutely clear that his priority is his advertisers. Thus, I submit that the triCityNews, while certainly a paper, is likely not a newspaper. I would ask for clarification or rebuttal, or seek evidence to dispute this conclusion by looking in the paper itself, but that's not possible for those of us not physically located in its distribution area. I would invite Mr. Jacobson to respond in person here to this assertion, but I don't want him to compromise his apparent belief that the audience he serves doesn't not seek clarification of information through the web.
I do, however, invite David Carr to explain his belief that this constitutes a "ray of light in [his] e-mail [sic] inbox". I won't hold him accountable for the headline on the story; we all know to blame the editors for that. But even a lighthearted story should have at least its fundamental assertions somewhat resemble the truth.
And, as a minor side note to Mr. Jacobson, whom I suspect may read the response on the web despite his contempt for our medium: The word "plog" is currently the subject of a trademark application by Amazon.com. They are an online concern that has apparently found a way to make money merchandising products online, even when they aren't making use of big, beautiful full-page ads. Just as someone will succeed in doing in Asbury Park, someday soon.
Related: I've rambled on about alt-weeklies and incuriosity in the past. Considering how well-known alts are for being politically liberal, it's interesting how culturally conservative many of them are.