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Letter to the editors

Dear Editors

Back in the day, you’d buy the Sunday Sarasota Herald-Tribune and be assured of curling up for an hour of juicy reading, drinking one or two cups of coffee while fending off the cats who felt it was their duty to hold the paper down on the floor by sprawling languidly across it, flicking their tails with measured insouciance as you tried vainly to get to the next page.

But now, you can read the H-T faster than you can flip its pages practically, because it seems to be in a frantic free-for-all of diminishing returns on all fronts, and the major loss is to and of the reader. What papers like the H-T are missing is that people will — still — willingly pay for that experience of getting ink all over their hands and fighting the fold. But they want substance for their trouble.

From the front pages to the funnies, readers all over this town are shaking their heads about the deteriorating content at the newsstands. And, with a truly perplexing lack of foresight and chutzpah, editors are shortchanging their own livelihoods — present and future — with their grim focus on cutting costs and maintaining profit margins (both admirable efforts) while putting out publications that aren’t meeting the needs or the times of the community (not quite so admirable).

BIZ 941 — while usually a great little local business magazine, stepped knee-deep into it with their February issue. The cover story is all about office romance. Office romance? Better to have had a stark black and white cover with big bold letters, proclaiming SMALL IS THE NEW BIG! That would have at least explained the emaciated size of the issue.

Forget the banal Valentine’s Day editorial tie-in; tell us how to keep a roof over the heads of our loved ones! To be fair, they did have some meaty stuff inside, but the cover story does its damage when we’re all holding on for dear life out here.

I haven’t the experience and the heady titles and Ivy-covered diplomas to comment with any authority, really, but does it take a rocket scientist to know that this is PRECISELY the time to give folks more bang for their reading buck instead of less? Isn’t this is the time to strengthen, not thinly stretch, the bonds with the reading community?

It’s called building brand loyalty. It’s called bucking the trend and staying the course — concurrently. It’s called being a crucial resource at a crucial time.

Who wants a dog that cowers in the corner when there’s a storm outside?

If newspapers are going slowly out of business, if magazines are holding on by their fingernails, then the editors should at least face reality with the conviction worthy of the vitality, the necessity, the sheer guts, of the meaningfully printed word.

Be the best, boldest, brightest, and biggest-idea publication you can be. For as long as you can be. Be smaller, tighter if necessary, but not at the expense of the intellect and the heart of your community.

There’s no shame in any of us fumbling and falling during times like these, but I’m not sure we need to throw ourselves down — preemptively short on content and long on less of everything — prostrate at the foot of fear.

Instead of rolling over, print publications need to rally confidence in their own futures, even if it’s faked, and assume their rightful authority and primacy as providers of the news of the day, thoughtful opinion, and as a valued resource for the individual intellect, business entities, and the community.

None of the rest of us in town is cutting the quality of what we deliver to our clients and customers. In fact, wherever possible, we’re increasing value while decreasing costs for the people who hire us. We’re giving 150%, even as our returns get lower and lower; confident, albeit a bit nerve-rattled, that things will shake back out again in the next 18 months or so. Until then, we’ll deliver excellence despite the hardship. It shouldn’t be any different with a print publication.

In other words, print publications and the editors who are running them should either bow out gracefully — suspend operations or close down before they get so watered down that no one will notice if they leave the scene or not; or buck up with bravery, or at least some bake and shake bravado, and print their asses off with fabulous content … until and if the fat lady finally sings.

But either way, show serious style by not sacrificing serious substance.

Give readers the real goods and I doubt you’ll go under, but at least if you do, you’ll go down with a thundering, dignified, crash that everyone will hear and feel – and lament –for miles.

Signed,
Your faithful reader and nearly unemployed writer,
MC Coolidge

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Posted on January 28th, 2009Comments RSS Feed
5 Responses to Letter to the editors
  1. Now, MC, you are being a little too harsh on the H-T. After all, this Sunday in the Editorial section, they printed a lengthy and oh-so-enlightened Obama hategram from a conservative nut which ended with “I have no country.”

    Quality news indeed.

    Reply
  2. I am being a bit harsh, I know. I certainly don’t know how to run a newspaper. I saw that hategram as well, but at LEAST there was a rebuttal letter to the editor which I think they ran on Monday, so that was cool.

    And, at LEAST the book editor Susan Rife is on top of things — she ran a killer piece about YOU and your FAB BOOK a few weeks back.

    For anyone who missed that piece, you can cut and paste this url and read all about Opening the Kimono — good info in our local newspaper about a great book by a local author!
    http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20081221/ARTICLE/812210310

    Reply
  3. John W. Perkins
    January 28, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    Lovely scathing insight of mediocre minds in a dynamic world.

    Sadly though, print is in decline compared to the “now” of the new technology.

    “Newspapers” will soon be a part of History 101.

    But, take heart, you will be able to replicate an actual Sunday newspaper from off the internet with your 21st century computer and printer. The actual newsprint paper may be a bit expensive for most, though.

    Remember, “change is inevitable”.

    Reply
  4. […] And MC Coolidge goes after — is it getting hot in here? — local newspaper editors. You can’t read this on the […]

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  5. Oh yeah. I LOVE the H-T! (You know how scattered a writer’s mind can be sometimes. We are known to bite the hand that feeds us. Oopsies.)

    Reply

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