Letters From the Issue of Thursday, June 21, 2007
JOKE'S ON JOE
Curb job: Too funny ("Amazing! Terry Goddard Grows a Spine, Kicks Sheriff Joke to the Curb," Feathered Bastard blog). Let's hope that Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard continues to grow that spine and investigates Candy Ass Thomas and Bozo Joke Arpaio for the well-known corruption they both stand for.
Name withheld by request
And Joe will fall: You know who needs to grow a backbone? Maricopa County Board of Supervisors members. They hold the purse strings, and they can hold Joe accountable for his slime. They could shut down Tent City tomorrow if they wanted to. They're the ones responsible for letting Joe run amok. Get them to follow Terry Goddard's lead, and Joe falls.
Name withheld by request
FALL OF THE REPUBLIC
Itll be interesting, indeed: I want to congratulate you on the article "It's a Wrap" by Sarah Fenske (June 7). She aptly explained the Arizona Republic's business model, and how its employees are dealing (or not) with the changes.
I was glad to see that she addressed issues related to content and journalistic integrity. Things were certainly different when the Pulliams owned the newspaper, but those days are gone. We live in a different world in so many ways. I think this decade has a lot in common with the '60s in the respect that we are experiencing a real shift in our paradigms. People don't get their news from the newspaper or TV anymore. Things are wide open for media outlets. In fact, the very definition of a media outlet is changing. The traditional media sources are trying to figure out where they fit in to this new structure, or even if there's a structure to fit into.
Can a newspaper be all things to all people when the market is narrowly fragmented? How does a local newspaper remain powerful when fewer people are aware of it? How do journalists maintain accuracy when so many competitors don't seem to worry about it?
This business model will save Gannett money, but I don't believe it's going to be successful at stemming the decline in readership, circulation, or ad dollars. As a news organization, the Republic is facing more competition right here in the Valley than ever before. It seems as though each community has its own magazine, there's the weekly Independent, New Times, and in the East Valley, the Tribune. When I want local news, I don't turn only to the Republic. It doesn't offer me anything new or unique, and like most people today, I want my information from a variety of sources.
Making azcentral.com the central news source for the Republic and Channel 12 is a risky move. It's subject to trendiness, and it's not conducive to long-term viewership unless the organization behind it is ready to commit financial and other resources to keep up with an ever-changing industry. It can't be done on the cheap, and as the article pointed out, Gannett already is in a cost-cutting mode.
It'll be interesting to see how the Republic succeeds using this business model, and how long Gannett will hold on to the paper in the face of declining readership, circulation, and ad dollars. It'll be interesting, too, to see what becomes of azcentral.com.
Tom Mihalchick, Gilbert
Disgruntled escapee: Having spent almost four years at the Republic 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, the 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 hard-hitting, in-depth articles that the Republic would never dare attempt.
It's obvious a newspaper can adjust to the changes of technology without sacrificing quality journalism. Unfortunately, the editors at the Republic couldn't recognize quality journalism if it landed on the doorstep every morning in a streamlined, easy-to-read tabloid complete with colorful graphics.
Carlos Miller, Miami
Missing the point?: The pique about the shrunken Monday edition is understandable and good to hear, of course. But 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 when 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 although 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.
The online 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 competing newspapers in one city).
None of it excuses a newspaper from putting out a scrunched version of itself and then saying that the readers wanted it. Nonsense.
Dan Hortsch, via the Internet
Wheres the narrative?: I read your compelling story about the Republic, 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.
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 Land, director, Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism, University of N. Texas
LOL at Rep BS: I quit getting the Republic a year ago, and although I read about 1,000 feeds a day in Google Reader, I don't get azcentral.com. I do get New Times' feed, and Steve Lemons' blog, 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 in the Republic 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.
Francine Hardaway, Phoenix
A newspapers Darwinian struggle: 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 with its brethren on a per capita basis it has been at the top for loss of readership. For reasons why, see the dead fish in your cover photo. It is the most valuable thing you found in the Republic.
As for revenue, Craigslist has destroyed newspaper help-wanted ads with its free ads. It is hard to compete with free, particularly when it is easy to submit ads to Craigslist.
Combine that with a wrecked economy in which businesses, looking to cut back on expenses, think 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 provided some 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 generations who still love 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 editor, Freedom's Phoenix
Call it corporate surrender: As a former Republic employee who helped launch azcentral.com, allow me to explain the reality: Large newspaper Web sites like the Republic's can be and often are profitable when supporting a staff of about 40. Under the current model, it cannot support a staff that covers state and national issues. At least not effectively.
It's clear to me the shift toward 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 costs too much, but because big corporate thinkers fail to realize that great content begins with a personal vision that operates outside of focus groups and market demographics. It requires financial commitment to the cardinal truths established by the great journalism of the 20th century. That's true in any platform, print, digital, or otherwise.
Name withheld by request
Bottom line: Its about the bottom line: What a good article. It's depressing, however, that I have to read about my own newspaper going south in someone else's newspaper. You can feel it here at the Republic: Everything has changed since Gannett took over. Managers are kept in the dark about their job status until the last moment, when they are escorted out the door by guards. Those same managers were the ones who signed onto trendy, company-sponsored programs such as the now-defunct "Vision 2000." Most are gone now.
The latest ruse I fear is the "Information Center" concept that corporate Gannett has trotted out. It will equate to fewer people doing more work, in less time, and doing it with no time for checks and balances. For a business that covets the First Amendment, Gannett's bean-counting style of management and corporate edicts have culminated in their own version of censorship. They no longer have the vision to cover a story, much less the money to employ quality journalists.
Witness the recent troubles of Democratic Representative Ed Pastor. The Republic opted to run a story culled from the Associated Press rather than use one of its own reporters. It's a shame, but typical of Gannett's tight-fisted ways. Is the dumbing-down of the Arizona Republic necessary in the age of the Internet? Unfortunately, the Internet has nothing to do with it. This has been Gannett's M.O. for years. That has worked for it (and made the corporation money) time and time again in every media company it has ever purchased. What's different now is that whatever Gannett tries, it doesn't seem to stem the tide of their falling stock price. In short, what has worked in the past for Gannett isn't working very well for it now.
Upper management is flailing and in a panic. A handful of years ago, Gannett sold off some of its non-media holdings, explaining that it wanted to get back to being a "newspaper" business again. Too bad it wasn't earnest about this. It's all about the money with Gannett, not basic, hard-hitting journalism.
Name withheld by request
Fish have brothers?: I just read Sarah Fenske's tome-length article (what a drag), which could have been written in three paragraphs: 1) Newspapers across the country are hurting; 2) the Republic, now owned by Gannett, is one of those papers; 3) the Republic has expanded to online reporting and other uses of the Internet and is experiencing some difficulties in doing so.
In its sorry excuse for "investigative reporting," New Times left out the rest of the cover photo: the dead fish's brother wrapped in New Times.
Marilynn Wennerstrom, Mesa
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