It's a Wrap

Can the Web save Arizona's largest daily newspaper?

On Monday, March 19, Arizona Republic subscribers across the Valley picked their newspapers up off the driveway, slid off the protective plastic bag, and then, surely, started shaking the paper — looking for its missing sections.

There was no Valley & State. No Business section. As a reader in Peoria would later complain in a letter to the editor, there wasn't really anything to pass across the breakfast table. The local news had been shoehorned into the first section, along with business. And while there was, indeed, still a sports section and a features section, now called Simple Arizona Living, the guts of the paper were gone.

In their place was a letter from the Republic's editor, Ward Bushee.

"Today, we introduce a new kind of Monday newspaper designed for busy people on the busiest day of the week," he wrote. The front section of the paper had been "reported, edited and designed for time-efficiency and looking ahead to the week."

The missing sections, as it turns out, had been inspired by the best market research money can buy: focus groups, surveys, and direction from a whopping 1,100 readers.

The Republic heard from even more readers after the launch. The newspaper's Saturday mailbag roundup noted that the paper received 168 letters on the subject.

The paper ran only one of the letters. But the reaction seemed pretty close to unanimous.

People hated it.

Reporters say they were swamped with angry calls from sources and friends. (Even the mailbag write-up admitted to an "ouch!") Regular readers seemed especially insulted that the Republic was claiming they wanted the changes. The changes, they argued, had been clearly designed to save the newspaper money.

For the first time in years, people were actually talking about the Republic. Too bad for the newspaper that it wasn't exactly . . . positive.


Two months later, people are still complaining. One lifelong Republic reader — whose hobby lately has been tracking the paper's ever-shrinking editorial section — is, well, hurt.

It's one thing for the Republic's owners to try out different experiments, he says. But to pretend this is what people in Phoenix really want? "What, do they think we're boobs?"

This man, a business leader, used to admonish his employees by saying, "Don't do anything you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the Valley & State section." But now, on Mondays, there is no Valley & State section.

The thing is, the "Simple Monday" Republic is clearly here to stay. And it's not even the biggest change at the paper these days. To see that change, you don't need to drop 50 cents into the paper box.

Instead, just log on to www.azcentral.com and glance at a few headlines. Then, come back a few hours later.

Do it often enough, and you can read all of tomorrow's newspaper.

As the Republic's mailbag indicated, there still are a lot of people who don't want a sleeker, briefer newspaper. (Sometimes, 1,100 reader surveys can be wrong.) It doesn't matter that news updates are free all day long at azcentral.com. There's something about the printed page.

Like newspapers everywhere, though, the Republic is convinced the future lies in a different direction.

Newspapers have been hemorrhaging ad dollars in the Internet age, and though the Republic has been more financially successful than most, it's not immune to the pressure. Nor does it want to be left behind as Wall Street increasingly viewed printed newspapers as dinosaurs.

Even as the paper was getting ready to roll out its new Monday edition, its parent company, Virginia-based Gannett, issued an annual report for 2006 that makes it clear: For Gannett's papers, including the Republic, the future will be digitized.

Under the new "Information Center" model that all Gannett papers were mandated to roll out by May 1, the newspaper is no longer the focus. Instead, the focus is "content" — and Web and print are equally important "platforms" for "content delivery."

Only Dilbert's Pointy-Haired Boss could top Gannett executives when it comes to the unironic use of corporatese. To translate the idea into English: Azcentral.com is now just as important as the newspaper that arrives on your doorstep.

That means five reporters who used to cover suburban news beats are now "mobile journalists," writing Web-ready briefs and posting digital photos from their cars instead of working the phones at the office.

It means all reporters are expected to break news online during the day, rather than wait to polish their copy for the next day's printed newspaper.

It means that the Republic prints endless reminders each day to mosey over to azcentral.com to read more. Or vote in a poll. (At azcentral.com, there's never an admonition to go buy the printed paper to get the rest of the story.)

It means more interactivity, with readers urged to write funny captions for photos, post snapshots of their weekend, or sound off in forums.

And if none of that sounds particularly new in this digital age, consider this: The readers' work isn't just being posted on the Web. Some percentage of it, including excerpts from the online forums, now runs in the newspaper. In fact, readers' postings now air in the important left-column real estate that used to be reserved for the omniscient voice of the newspaper's editorial board.

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
22 comments
Ronda
Ronda

My name is Ronda I am 63 years old I just put our little dog down Saturday at Scottsdale Vet.Clinic.I went to pick his little dead body up he was only 10 pounds.He was HORRID,he was half sitting and all twisted.The vet told me if we had known you were going to pick him up we would taken better care of him EXCUSE ME he was like our child for 11 years.I won't let this rest untill everyone knows Thank You

Rand VanBibber
Rand VanBibber

$130 two years ago. $144.50 last year. Next year's home delivery subscription $214.70. The Arizona Republic was wrong about ME WANTING CHANGE. But, they have prodded me to change. Hello Wall Street Journal for those prices. Thanks. Respectfully, Rand

erika page
erika page

A few months ago I tried to post a comment on azcentral.com and they never post it. I like to check out what's going on on the valley but I was tired that in the front page of Arizona Republic there is always something bad about the hispanic community...illegal aliens did this, did that, (all bad things happend on this country is because illegals) I was tired of that...It was like Joe Arpaio clan was writing every day....

Annon
Annon

Loved the story. It's really on point. I'm a former reporter who left shortly after the info center announcement was dropped. It wasn't for me, but the general public -- not the people posting here -- love it. They like seeing their pictures in print and are willing to subscribe AND buy 10 copies to send to their families.

No, I don't like what the info center, the short Monday section and the softball-style news stories are doing to my profession, but hey, they're giving the people what they want. I didn't sign up for this when I started there, so I left. If you don't like what you're reading there, find another source. It's evolution, and no matter what, The Republic will survive on sports, entertainment and reader interaction from the Web.

It's all about getting the news to you, regardless of the byline.

Besides, does anybody think there is any other dailly that will ever compete? The Arizona Daily Star is in shambles and the Trib is pathetic. The local journals, magazines and non-dailies will give you everything you need -- unless you need gossip, sports stats and profiles and other topical stuff.

Jose
Jose

The republic's quality is often less than that of hischool newspapers. The articles are often slanted and wholly uninformative. I even wrote to one reporter after he took an entire page to give out incorrect information to his readers only to note in the body that he didnt really do any reasearch on the subject. Sure he called a few places and left a number but when they didnt get back to him he wrote the article anyway. Its not all that important to be acurate, just entertaining I guess. The online version is even more a joke where they'll let you comment on articles about the cutest kind of puppy but for real issues comments are frequently turned off. Great attitude for a news outlet to have: If you might not say something nice, we wont let you say anything at all. Way to stick to the ideals of information sharing and discussion. I hope this latest stunt angers readers to the point it bankrupts them and something less slimy can rise from the ashes.

Gayle Montgomery
Gayle Montgomery

Sarah, that's a nice, thorough, readable piece on the ashes rising out of Phoenix. I worked for Gannett for a couple of years back in the late 1970s, and can see nothing has changed. Also see you just aren't cut out to work for them.

Gayle MontgomeryPolitical Editor (retired), Oakland (California) TribuneFlorence, Oregon

Later Days
Later Days

I'm glad I left that paper before Gannett took over. The Republic started circling the drain in 1997 thanks to enormous staff cuts and hires/promotions that just didn't make any sense. The lunatics are running the asylum. There are managers who've never edited a story yet have spent their dubious careers brown-nosing and back-stabbing their way to the top It's a shameful lot, especially when you consider it was once a newspaper to be proud of. Readers deserve much better than what's been shoved down their throats by the "experts" and "professionals" at the Arizona Republic. It's not just the content that's slipped; that newspaper is visual vomit. Print journalism isn't dead - it co-exists nicely where I work now (the same paper that's had nine Pulitzer finalists in 10 years).

Hally
Hally

Hate what has happened to Monday Republic. Not enough of it there to line the bottome of the bird cage but certainly worthy of doing so. no choices as far as papers go. The East Valley Tribune is bad 7 days a week. I go on line for San Francisco Examiner/Columbus Dispatch or New York Daily News.........................94fd71

Powell Gammill
Powell Gammill

The Arizona Republic, like most major newspapers across the nation, has been steadily losing subscribers. For years, up until the most recent survey -- when compared to its brethren on a per capita basis -- they have been at the top for loss of readership. For why, see the dead fish in your cover photo. It is the most valuable thing you found in the Republic.

As for revenue, Craig's List has destroyed newspaper want ads with its free ads. It is hard to compete with free, particularly when it is easy to submit ads to a local Craig's List.

Combine that with a wrecked economy where businesses are looking to cut back on expenses, and believe they can shave newspaper ads and you have a new paradigm for news outlets.

How the Republic, or any news media outlet will sustain a profit in the future is going to be interesting to watch. The Republic had one of the first, and best, online access to newspaper contents in the nation. As younger people, who have less "need" to hold the printed word in their hands grow up, and displace the current generation who still loves the feel of the daily paper in their hands, more and more revenue must come from online. Survival of the fittest is ensuing.

Powell Gammill,Senior EditorFreedom's Phoenix

Steve
Steve

The Arizona republic's new policy of making its paper into an arizona of the weekend USA will result in its ultimate demise. I will not continue with my subscription if I can't read in detail the content I demand. They won't gain new viewers who are like the short attention span content craved by those who don't read books or magazines in depth. In short they are cutting their own throats. Additionally their classified advertising is additionally becoming an internet driven process which again is not what the average individual wants when they seek to review the classified ads in print. So, why continue to subcribe, I won't. they will go by the wayside.

Mitch Land
Mitch Land

Sarah,

I read your compelling column titled "It's a Wrap," which raises the issue of Web newspapers and the fate of storytelling, especially long-form narrative journalism. The newspapers that fail to understand that their dedicated readers care about the compelling true stories of our time, thoroughly researched and with touch of literary genius, will surely fail. This is one reason that the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference of the Southwest has become an overnight success. Our board members include Gay Talese, Norm Pearlstine, Ken Wells, Hampton Sides and many more people who believe that storytelling will never go away. Narrative journalism, online as well as in print, is here to stay. Why on earth would Conde Nast launch the fabulous new business magazine, Portfolio, if its focus groups, and related research gurus, had advised doing away with storytelling? Hearst Corporation, Texas Monthly and The Dallas Morning News, the Sid Richardson Foundation, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation and others provide major sponsor support for the Mayborn Conference.

Sarah, we give away $12,000 in prizes to the best three essays in two categories (a total of six): First-person narratives and Reporting-based narratives. In addition, we award a book publishing contract to the winning manuscript proposal. All of this work must be nonfiction and thoroughly researched and fact-checked. By the way, remember "A Million Little Pieces" and Oprah's disappointment in James Frey? That book was published by Nan Talese, Gay's wife. She has her own Random House imprint in New York. Well, she's coming this year to our conference to talk about this unfortunate affair.

Let not your heart be troubled, if the Arizona Republic wishes to follow the whimsical opinions of a mere 1,200 respondents, and bid "adieu" to narrative journalism, then another newspaper will pick up the mantle. Narrative journalism is here to stay.

Mitch LandDirectorMayborn Graduate Institute of JournalismUniversity of North TexasDenton, TX (940) 565-4564(940) 390-0361 cell

Omar Tentmaker
Omar Tentmaker

I live in a small town in Arizona and have been beyond appalled by the reporting coverage by the Repugnant on our local politicians. That newspaper consistently sucks up to incumbent elected officials rather than making the slightest effort to look into the corruption that is going on here. The latest staffer to cover our town is a complete dope and seems to be following the Repugnant party line about supporting the "ins". That newspaper can't go down fast enough to suit me.

Dan Hortsch
Dan Hortsch

The pique about the shrunken Monday edition is understandable and good to hear, of course. But the New Times comment on updating news stories and not polishing for the next day's edition misses a point. Older reporters and editors (I am retired) remember when newspapers had more editions and they frequently turned out a story for an early edition and then added to it and polished it for later editions. Whining about having to put something out "right now" reflects how spoiled journalists have become and how accustomed to having all day to write a breaking news story. Breaking news is just that, and while a newspaper seems to undermine itself by putting breaking news online throughout the day, better that than letting radio and television have that role unchallenged. What newspapers need to do to compete is to turn out -- in addition to shorter, breaking online stories -- the best available reports for readers the next morning, stories that go beyond the headline and into the greater significance of the events, that offer deeper insight and information than does anyone else.

It's a tricky business. I am not sorry to not have to compete with myself, but a lot of the fun of newspaper work at one time lay in reporting fast on deadline and then meeting another deadline, and then maybe another, with a still better story. (If New Times addressed this matter later in that long piece, I did not get to it. Sorry.) The oneline work is a modern version of what reporters did in the really, really old days of six and seven and eight editions a day (with two, three or four newspapers in a given city all competing.)

None of which excuses a newspaper from putting out a scrunched version of itself and then saying that the readers wanted it. Nonsense.

Miiko
Miiko

Thank you for writing about this. I was annoyed when they made this horrible decision. It was unreadable and I just stopped reading Monday's paper. I mainly read the business section and I didn't appreciate having to dig to find it, only to discover there's nothing worthy to read. It was a bad idea and I love that you wrote about it and exposed them!

Warren
Warren

Thanks for the article on the Republic. I used to receive the Republic until I canceled it over a month ago. I can receive the news for free over the internet from them and many other sources and I felt bad about all the paper I was wasting. I think the days of the print media are over and the future is the electronic media (although there will always be a few printed journals). This is coming from someone that used to get 2 or 3 papers back when I lived in the bay area. Although it's unfortunate many employees are leaving the newspapers, there will probably be a consolidation in the industry because when they go online, they are competing against hundreds of competitors worldwide instead of just what is printed in the immediate metro area.

Carlos Miller
Carlos Miller

Having spent almost four years at the Republic working as a reporter before moving back to my hometown, Miami, I have been able to see how the Internet and the decline of newspaper readership has affected The Miami Herald in a negative way.

Like the Republic, the Herald is frequently criticized and has experienced a drop in circulation. It has gone through corporate restructuring, a questionable firing of a prominent columnist and accusations of unethical and biased reporting.

And although the Herald is not nearly as accomplished as it was during the 1980s when it won eight Pulitzer Prizes, it still produces some hard-hitting, in-depth articles that the Republic will never dare attempt. In fact, last year's investigative story on the county's housing scandal won the Herald the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for best Local Story.

So it's obvious a newspaper can still adjust to the changes of technology without sacrificing quality journalism.

Unfortunately, the editors at the Republic wouldn't recognize quality journalism if it landed on the doorstep every morning in a streamlined easy-to-read tabloid complete with colorful graphics.

francine hardaway
francine hardaway

I quit getting the Republic a year ago, and although I read about 1000 feeds a day in Google Reader, I don't get azcentral.com I do get the New Times feed, and the Feathered Bastard, however. Everything else I can get from the Business Journal and Google News. When I saw, by picking it up in Starbucks, the BS about the Monday paper for a busy reader, I almost laughed out loud.

keep those validation letters for comments on your articles big and bold for those of us who have been with New Times since the beginning :-)

rich
rich

what comes around goes around!if you leave a comment on their website they don't like they "flag it for removal"thats the same as asking someone to leave a meeting after you asked for their comments(i.e...censorship)they won't take/make constructive on their affiliatesit's kinda like controlling the market place(i.e.......censorship)it's good OUT with the old way of HUSH HUSHin with the new way of report the REAL NEWS not bias opinionslets see how they like to silenced

Matt
Matt

As a former Republic employee and one who helped launch azcentral.com, allow me to explain the reality: Large newspaper websites like the Republic's can and often are profitable -- when supporting a staff of about 40. That includes sales staff, design, even management. Under the current models, it cannot support a newsroom staff that covers state and national issues. At least not effectively.

It's clear to me the shift towards generalization is not a positive future for journalism. Despite the best intentions to revive an industry, the shift is one of corporate surrender ... to Google, to monster.com, to television, to the sheer cost of newsprint in a culture more sensitive to ecological issues. Journalism is not going to simply shift to a less expensive publishing platform. It's going to transition into something irrelevant. The art form of earnest beat reporting and challenging authority will die as a corporate venture, not because it cost too much, but because big corporate thinkers failed to realize that great content first begins with a personal vision that operates outside of focus groups and market demographics. It requires financial commitment to the cardinals truths established by the great journalism of the 20th Century. That's true in any platform, print, digital, or otherwise.

Lola
Lola

Good news!!! The AZ Reugnant puts crap out and laid off half of it's employees due to their commie one sided articles!!!! Yeah, they even closed their Tempe store. No one wants to read one sided bull. Oh and for Memorial Day, what was on their front cover was not to honor our soldiers but to have an article of how mexico wants our buried soldiers from past wars out of their country. That pissed a lot of people off. So AZ repug...reap what you sowed.

Arcy
Arcy

Thanks for reporting about the incredible decline in the Arizona Republic. I'd feel cheated if I didn't read it for free online.

The front page articles are undeserving of front page status. "Sleepy teens want problem put to rest" and "City parks make a bigger splash" are not news articles for the front page -- they are lead articles for the Arizona Living section. Many of the articles in the Arizona Living section are often barely-concealed advertisements. And that's not counting the actual clothing section, Yes!

The paper appears to be well on it's way to becoming a lifestyle magazine instead of a source of news.

Note to Jon Talton: thanks for years of commenting on the pitfalls our state faces. Ever thought of a blog?

I'm extremely glad that my ambition to become a journalist did not work out.

 
Loading...