More on the Merc

January 9, 2008

Via Romenesko today:

Just a few weeks before former San Jose Mercury News Editor Carole Leigh Hutton resigned in a surprise move last Thursday, she led a team of staffers in a presentation to MediaNews Group CEO William Dean Singleton to turn the daily into a three-section paper.

Some staffers, still puzzled days after Hutton’s sudden departure, are speculating that that idea, which Singleton and other company brass did not support, may have been the final blow to Hutton’s job.

One of several aspects of the paper’s ongoing “Rethinking Project,” the decreased sections idea was apparently greeted negatively by Singleton and David J. Butler, MediaNews vice president for news, during a presentation in mid-December. [Source]

I’ve written on the Rethinking Project before, in December. I thought it was an interesting if not excellent idea then, and (with no updates to the Rethinking blog to convince me otherwise) am sticking to my guns. Why not have a section for the “important” take-down-the-mayor and wars and political machinations, a section for business, and an “everything else” section? Is it too radical to consolidate sports and entertainment? (Aren’t sports, after all, a form of entertainment?)

What’s sad is that if this project, and specifically the three-section idea, was really the reason behind Hutton’s departure, then it’s probably not going to move forward, or at least not in the way it was going.

Butler, who replaced Hutton as Mercury News editor last week, cited the “Rethinking Project” and specifically Hutton’s description of plans to “blow up the paper” during comments to staffers last week. He said such an approach might be too bold for the moment…


7 Responses to “More on the Merc”

  1. Vox Says:

    I’m watching the SJMN restructuring/reinventing with a lot of interest. Like a lot of papers, the one I work at has been struggling with decreasing circulation and advertising revenue. I, and a few of the other younger folks who work there, have offered a few suggestions for our paid site as well as the free site, but the editor and publisher are very much married to the idea that paper publishing is more important and saving our paper circulation is more important than expanding our online options.

    This is totally understandable, considering our demographics in the town, and considering that many people (me too, despite my background in online publishing and Internet in general) still think of printed words as somehow inherently better than the one on a screen. But our demographics are changing — a lot of older subscribers are passing away, a lot of younger ones are tightening their belts and cutting down their subscription, and a lot of new residents are from Silicon Valley.

    So I’m watching the SJMN reinvention with a lot of interest and hope that more papers will follow their lead. I think that this is a much better way to save the newspaper industry in the U.S. than outsourcing everything (and several papers in California have outsourced their page design, writing, and other departments; I think SJMN’s idea is much more responsible and sustainable).

  2. Vox Says:

    Hit enter too soon.

    It really sucks that the idea might not get off the ground. I especially wanted to see how the 70-30 portion (70 percent write for the Web site, 30 percent for the hard copy paper) worked out. It was a wonderful idea, and really might have been revolutionary in how newspapers work. I think this would also help to get a lot of stories out there that might not make it into a newspaper. For example, on the Internet, you don’t have to hit a certain inch-count, you don’t have to hold photos because of space, you don’t have to carefully choose which stories are worth spending ink on. It’s a great way to get more news and more diverse news out there.

  3. Rachel Says:

    Totally! I was reading somewhere (I don’t think on the Merc’s blog, but it definitely applies) about how newspapers have to start thinking of their papers as a “Best of the Web” product, where the BEST stuff makes it in and everything else is online.

    The Post just launched a new article template that allows stories to have more photos associated with them (I think there’s no limit but I could be wrong?), which is a great step in the right direction and exactly what you’re talking about.

    It’s too bad your paper doesn’t “get it.” A paper where I used to work (which shall remain nameless) was struggling with the same issues; eventually the top brass invited all the “young people” to tell them what was going wrong. I said (diplomatically) they had to take down their registration wall so people would be able to read stories without logging in, and so Google would be able to index their content, and the same top brass official who had originally asked for a “young person’s opinion” looked me right in the eye and said “that’s because you’re young. You young people want everything right away.”


  4. Vox Says:

    Wow. See, at least the paper I work at has the site content up for free. When I blog, I won’t even link to the stories that require registration unless I absolutely have to. I go find a version that doesn’t instead. Now that won’t affect a paper’s readership much … but from what I can tell, most of the big blogs do the same thing, and that can be a lot of attention for a small-time paper. For example, several local writers during the Jena Six case ended up writing or reprinting stuff in major national newspapers. My own paper had something similar happen when there was a major murder case that went political out here.

    One thing we are doing that is fantastic is photo spreads. We put six or seven photos of a local event, no story needed (or with a short story by the photographer), in the paper, and more photos online, and let people buy them. This might not be as feasible for big papers (who wouldn’t have the photographers to keep up with it) but for small papers? It’s gold, because you have something quick and interesting and valuable in the paper, and an extra line of income as people buy copies of the photos.

    An if young people want everything right away, and the paper is seeking to gain young readers, then that “rebuttal” makes no sense at all.

  5. Rachel Says:

    then that “rebuttal” makes no sense at all.
    Well, yeah. I was floored.

    I love the photo spread idea. How often do you run one of those? I think at some papers the problem is space as well as photographer’s time–hence putting more on the Internet, of course, but I’ve heard of photographers lobbying for a one-page photo spread *once a month* and being told there was no space.

  6. Vox Says:

    We do about two a week, one for sports and one for other local events. It’s a quick way to get more local content in. I could see big papers not having the space or time, though. We’re pretty local and try to get in as much local content as possible, and since a lot of our stories are things like city council meetings and water board stuff (i.e., no photos needed), there’s more time for photo coverage of local events.

  7. Rachel Says:

    I read “water board” as “waterboard” and was like HOLY CRAP! Your town is waterboarding people?

    It seriously took me three reads to get it right.

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