April Fools! 2010
Despite years of profitability as the county’s largest-circulation rag, the Weekly ends its print edition and goes exclusively online and mobile.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Disclaimer: This article was a part or April Fools 2010 cover story. For more information read the letter from the publisher
April 1, 2010. Seaside, California. It is with a sense of great sadness, mixed with high hopes about the future, that we announce that the issue you are holding in your hands will be our last print edition. After 22 successful years of publishing the Weekly in print, we’re pulling the plug on the paper product. Starting tomorrow, we’re going exclusively online and mobile.
The Weekly has occupied a unique place in the hearts and minds of this community since the days when Fort Ord still trained troops. We have championed open government and environmental awareness, covered fledgling arts groups and been this community’s most successful local and independent media. We’ve had our firsts: The first solar-powered newspaper in the country, the only local media (and national alternative newsweekly) to send a reporter to the Iraq War, the first local newspaper to win the state publishers’ award for public service (twice), the first local media company to print on recycled newsprint, and the, now, the first to go all digital.
Cue the clichés: All good things must come to an end. What goes up must come down. Change is the only constant. It is what it is.
After a solemn all-staff meeting conducted in the middle of our usual Tuesday deadline shift, the first person we told of the change was our Ricoh copy machine repairman, who seems to be visiting us just about every day. “I’ll miss the paper – and the free coffee,’’ he said.
At a time when newspapers across the country have been plagued with cutbacks, furloughs, closures and a daily working atmosphere of doom and gloom, we have successfully built an editorial and business model that prospered. For 1,251 issues we combined hard-hitting news, the most extensive calendar listings around, a lively approach to the local arts and entertainment, and sophisticated photography and design, delivering a product as visually exciting as it is journalistically solid.
The fact that we’re doing well didn’t change our opinion. Like Michael Jordan, we wanted to go out on top of our game. (Unlike Michael, we’re sticking to the plan.)
We faced the fact that the print version of Monterey County Weekly, just like 8-tracks, instant coffee, and polyester pants, has had its day; long live www.montereycountyweekly.com!
Our vibrant, fast website and mobile app – free to you, and costing us almost nothing – brings you everything from the recent reports on local bands who played South By Southwest, to the most complete food and wine guide in the county, those same comprehensive calendar listings, 24/7 local, state and national news feeds, reports from local bloggers (labor donated), a local business guide for you consumers, and improved search engine optimization features for those of you who understand what SEO means.
Plus: Lots of other stuff. Mobile apps. Widgets. Tweets. Facebook posts. Rollover ads. Data-mining opportunities. Vlogs. And all this other junk we’ve been rolling our eyes about at new media conferences.
LET’S FACE IT: SIX PEOPLE CAN DO THE WORK OF 26.
As excited as we are about the transition, we know the decision comes as a shock. It certainly shocked 20 of our 26 full-time employees who are now getting pink-slipped, the handful of freelance reporters, our cartoonists, our 13 drivers and the nearly dozen pressmen who are involved in pre-press to post-production.
But we no longer need a staff that big. Let’s face it: In the technological age, six people can do the work of 26.
~ ~ ~
We know we owe readers an explanation for our decision, particularly coming as it does two weeks after putting out a 152-page “Best of Monterey County®’’ issue, the largest since our 20th anniversary issue in 2008.
The Weekly started as an insurgent publication, taking on the establishment newspapers in this community with nerve and verve. It was a lot of fun, and surprised even us when it proved to be so profitable, but it turned out to be a lot more work than we’d imagined. A mission is a mission, and we slogged on.
The turning point came after a recent editorial board meeting with five-term Carmel Mayor Sue McCloud. We ended the session worn out, drained and disgruntled. It reminded us of the Monterey City Council meeting a couple years back, when PR superflack David Armanasco brought in some “surfers” to speak in favor of the chemical industry in its fight to keep Monterey from banning Styrofoam. We knew the end was near.
Frankly, the thought of meeting one more politician, being hammered by one more publicist, having to respond to one more nonsensical letter to the editor, or taking one more angry phone call from a promoter whose wedding band didn’t get the front cover was mind-numbing.
We knew something had to change. Immediately.
We’d been sitting on a finely crafted, ready-to-launch business plan to turn the Weekly into the Daily. Let’s face it: We wish we had a dollar for every reader who’s urged us to fill the increasing gap in local news since the Herald’s succession of new publishers and owners has turned that once-classy lady into a two-dollar streetwalker. The Californian looks thinner than Kate Moss these days, and the Carmel Pine Cone is the house organ of the Tea Party crowd.
A few of the Weekly’s staffers – CEO/Founder Zeve, Publisher Erik Cushman, Art Director Karen Loutzenheiser, Editor Paul Wilner, Classified Advertising Director Carrie Kuhl, New Media Guru Kevin Smith, senior ad reps George Kassal, Windy Osborn and Diane Glim and Office Manager Linda Maceira – had it out during a recent strategy session at Schooners. Our spirits were temporarily restored by salt-free margaritas (plus the view of a frolicking otter), but still, we all agreed to shred the paper.
“We didn’t need to write anything on a napkin,’’ said Zeve, who’s required the company to only purchase New Leaf napkins for years. “Over time, we’ve met with dozens of consultants offering PowerPoint presentations on how to run the rest of these bastards out of town.’’
But by the time we’d finished our second margarita, we came to a collective realization about the plan. Bottom line: It was nuts.
“We would have had to bring in even more employees, pay out more money for newsprint and distribution, pay out more money in health benefits to a greedy insurance company that did a bait and switch to get our business in the first place, buy more computers, put in even more workdays, and see even more of each other than we already do,’’ ranted Cushman, who we learned has retained protective custody for Zeve and himself “purely as a precautionary measure” until the staff processes the decision, and decides which one of them is to blame.
Divorce, burn-out and workplace violence seemed in the offing if the paper went daily, according to several sources at the Weekly, several of whom privately confessed that they didn’t really like each other that much.
Enough is enough.
For more that two decades, we’ve taken pride in covering a diverse community of over 425,000 residents in 12 cities and towns, 15 “Census-designated places’’ (we have no idea what that means, but it sounds impressive, so we’re throwing it in) and all the unincorporated areas, including Big Sur and Pebble Beach.
How do we produce the content of the Weekly with three staff writers, one deputy editor, one assistant editor, one photographer, and an editor? Damned if we know. But we’re a tad tired of doing all that work only to hear everyone go into an ecstatic frenzy just to tell us to “twitter this, twitter that.’’
Why devote professional careers to producing well-reported cover stories when we can get away with fluffy celebrity interviews and photo shots of smiling couples from overpriced, exclusive social gatherings?
“We’ve been putting this thing together with spit and chewing gum for the past two decades, we officially changed our name five years ago, and people still call it the Coast Weekly!’’ said an exasperated Zeve, who will become our society editor (he’ll be covering the exclusive events now) and oversee the typeface, design and cover headlines of the new organization’s website. The technical part of the operation is being outsourced to a highly recommended Mumbai company.
“Firing 80 percent of the staff on Tuesday was really hard,’” Zeve added. “But I know that even though we won’t be working with each other every day in the same office, we’ll still follow each others’ tweets.”
“We’ve started on our streamlining process, but it won’t be complete until the office has been almost completely purged of humanity,” Cushman added. “And I have to admit, employees are overrated anyway.”
Anonymous insiders, all of whom worked at the Weekly, suggested another reason for Zeve’s decision: The deep depression he has fallen into after the failure of the Carmel Valley incorporation movement. “We wrote nearly 150 pieces about that goddamn thing and it still failed,’’ said former Weekly news editor Jessica Lyons, who obtained a record amount of inane documents from expensive Freedom of Information requests as part of the research that went into it. “Bradley went into a tailspin, and never came out the other side. Let’s just hope another traffic light doesn’t get installed in Carmel Valley, or he might go postal.”
Cushman was evasive about his future plans, but several sources said he is considering returning to Montana to restart his taxidermy career, or return to his first love, hanging around backstage at Eddie Vedder concerts.
He said he was initially ambivalent about the decision to go digital, but wants to see it through: “No one else in alternative press history has made it so long in an area devoid of a long-established university, without tons of rock clubs and booze ads. Unlike the rest of them, we’re still making money, but it’s time to move on. Repeat after me: Less is more.”
EVEN THOUGH WE WON’T BE WORKING IN THE SAME OFFICE, WE’LL BE FOLLOWING EACH OTHERS’ TWEETS.
In the end, we couldn’t swallow the pill of continuing to crank out a weekly print product, particularly these days, when we’ve given up recreational drugs and even moderated our alcohol use in exchange for the middle-class, middle-aged comforts of Netflix, Ambien and DVRs.
Another factor: We’re producing way too many words in an age when an amateur video shot about a man kicking himself in the head gets more online traffic than our stories about corruption at city hall. Not to mention the time invested in research, multiple source interviews, drafts, editors wreaking havoc on our writers’ copy, factchecking, “editorial design” to allegedly make them look good (though designers prefer pictures to text), reproofreading, sending it to the press in San Jose on a strict deadline, printing the suckers, distributing them on another deadline, and then listening to all the complaints about what we didn’t include, plus managing rip-off health plans from insurance companies, profit-sharing expenses, and an office full of people who don’t have a life except the part of it they spend with each other.
The Weekly world is now simpler, sweeter and deeply tweetable, just 140 characters written by any of our remaining employees during their commute, or while sitting in a local coffeeshop or at some arts event. Cost of tweeting or posting to the MC Weekly website: Almost nothing. New Media Director Smith and former staff photographer Nic Coury can even tweet with a phone in each hand while waiting for their cappuccino fixes at Acme Coffee. (Smith says he can even do it while driving; if something goes wrong, we’ll save costs, with only five employees.)
Most of the former staffers have taken the news in stride. “It was fun while it lasted, but I’m actually glad it’s over and done with,’’ said graphic artist Kevin Jewell, a 15-year Weekly veteran. “I’m going to take the solar panels to Burning Man!”
Assistant Editor and ace environmental reporter Kera Abraham added, “I just got promoted, and I had no idea that I was supposed to do my old job, my old boss’s job, and the editor’s job. Lame.’’
Calendar coordinator and gallery, music and theater scenester Walter Ryce seemed to be going through a period of quiet mourning, saying he would be fact-checking the listings for the following week’s calendar section anyhow, even though there is no longer any section to put out.
The last man standing?
Deputy Editor Mark C. Anderson. After consulting with Weekly astrologer Rob Breszny (who did not see the announcement coming), Anderson has decided to follow his heart: In true Steinbeckian spirit, he’ll camp out in his camper (with his dog) in the former Weekly parking lot and work on a first-person story about the new technology and its impact on our personal relationships and dining habits. We might just publish it in a series of tweets (if it’s short enough).
OUR NEW SLOGAN: “LESS CONTENT; (ALMOST) NO COST. WHAT YOU WANT.”
See you online (http://www.montereycountyweekly.com) and on your mobile (http://www.montereycountyweekly.com/m) phone at an even more enhanced version of our website.
Hard as it was for us, we’ve tossed out our old mission – “To inspire independent thinking and conscious action, etc.” – and are working on adopting our new slogan: “Less content; (almost) no cost. What you want.”
“From now on, we’re going to be doing tweets about the scene, not-long narrative news stories, and posting other very short stories on our website, and leaning on our plethora of soon-to-be-recruited high school interns to generate the content,” Zeve said. “Frankly, we’re relieved.’’
Hail and farewell, readers of Monterey County/Coast Weekly. We hope your feelings aren’t hurt, but our spouses, pets and house plants cry out for attention.
See you in the future – perhaps sooner than you think.