The Weekly aims to increase its influence with free classifieds on monterey.backpage.com.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Philip Meyer, in his new book The Vanishing Newspaper, Saving Journalism in the Information Age, writes that the real value of newspapers is their connection to readers and influence in their communities—not their stock price.
A professor of journalism at University of North Carolina, Meyer began his newspapering career as a paperboy at age 14 and went on to become an executive with Knight Ridder. In between, he was a distinguished editor who helped pioneer what was then called computer-assisted reporting.
His book makes the case that newspapers ought to confront pressure from alternative sources of information by investing in quality instead of cutting costs and raising subscription and advertising rates.
“We produce two kinds of influence,” Meyer said recently at the Poynter Institute’s Journalism and Business Values conference. “One is commercial influence, which is for sale. The other is societal influence, which is not for sale.”
In his book, Meyer offers reams of statistics to show that the ability to influence a community stems from credibility and affinity with readers, and is ultimately tied to the newspaper’s financial well-being.
The book comes at a time when daily newspapers are watching their readership and subscription rolls wither. Perhaps equally important, they are seeing one of their core revenue streams—classified advertising—go electronic. The Web is fast becoming the place to sell your Volvo or look for a new job or rent out your vacant apartment.
Of course we here at the Weekly we take a certain delight in the pressures that dailies feel from alternative information sources—since we are one such alternative. But the message in Meyer’s book applies equally to free weeklies.
We must be vigilant that this newspaper remains vital to the lives of our readers or risk losing their loyalty, and the associated opportunities to grow our business.
This letter is to report on changes we’re undertaking at
Monterey County Weekly, and to solicit feedback and
suggestions on ways you think we might further enhance our
value in this community.
• • •
This past month the Weekly launched a new section on our Web site to offer free classified ads. The site is at monterey.backpage.com and can be easily accessed through the “classifieds” link on our Web site (montereycountyweekly.com).
We did not decide to give away a service that we have always charged money for because we hate money. Rather it was because we want to increase our value to our readers. Our decision was reached after asking ourselves, “What do our customers want?”
The answer, we think, is clear: You want the marketplace that traditional classified ads represent, but you want it with utility, with convenience and for the right price.
We reached this conclusion not through focus groups, but by looking at trends in the San Francisco Bay Area. The numbers are incredibly revealing.
Just five years ago, the four major daily papers (the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune and the Contra Costa Times) essentially owned the classified advertising market. Today they lag behind the electronic bulletin board Craigslist by huge margins.
Bob Cauthorn, the former director of the Chronicle-owned sfgate.com, reported last year that for the week of Nov. 21, there were 12,200 employment ads on the San Francisco Craigslist site, while the four major dailies together had a total of 4,900 jobs advertised. In the housing rental category a similar story held true. Bikes: 1,200 to 10; furniture: 8,800 to 390, and so on.
Cauthorn assigns a large part of the success of Craigslist to the affinity that users have for it—he calls it “mindshare.”
I have had Craigslist bookmarked on my desktop for three
years. In the past, if I wanted to buy tickets to a Giants
game I went there first. I bought my last used car through
Craigslist. If, as a newspaper publisher, I’m using an
electronic bulletin board as a preferred method of shopping in
San Francisco, then the handwriting is on the wall.
• • •
The Weekly has invested in a software system that will make us the Coke to Craigslist’s Pepsi. At monterey.backpage.com users can write long-winded descriptions of their quaint Pacific Grove cottage available for rent. They can upload photos of their nearly new Nissan. They can link to their counseling center’s Web site. They can use an anonymous email address to seek applications for a new office manager. They can do all these things as often as they want from the comfort of the home at the time of their choosing—and they can do it all at no charge.
Monterey.backpage.com is the place where our readers can create the kind of community marketplace idealized in IPO pitches by new media hipsters. We think it will be a great compliment to our print classifieds and the rest of the newspaper. And we believe monterey.backpage.com will be proof that our strategy of investing in areas desired by our readers will continue to gain us the loyalty and affection that will prove good for our business.
Please let me know what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org.