10 July 2008

The silent majority got it right

Not surprisingly, the likely death rattle of the Independent - yet again - is stirring up some local controversy.

There's an interesting thread over at Geoff Meeker's blog at the Telly site if anyone is curious about what might wind up being a long one.  The post in question is actually a guest piece by former Current publisher Mark Smith.

Smith took some exception to comments made by Indy supreme editor Ryan Cleary about poaching advertising.  He also laced into the circulation claims Ryan made.

One comment  - thus far - from Frank Carroll offered a defence of the Indy and Cleary that got the old e-scribbler's blood racing.

The most important issue is that the province may be about to lose a vibrant competitor to the Transcontinental monopoly. The Telegram has responded to competition in the past by beefing up its editorial operations. (There would be no Sunday edition of the Telegram were it not for the Sunday Express.)

Let's get one thing clear right up front.  With a paid circulation of  only 4,000, the Independent wasn't competing with anyone else in the local media marketplace for anything.  It sure as hell wasn't competing with any of the dailies or weeklies anywhere across the province. 

The weeklies outside St. John's never had much competition anyway, even when they were owned by Robinson Blackmore.  When the Indy first started, it was pushing into some markets and finding some success in Goose Bay and Corner Brook. Somewhere along the line, the paper seems to have retreated from its province-wide approach and focused on the townie crowd.  Makes sense, given that the pink, white and green people all live within spitting distance of the Ship.

The Telly likely never sweated the Indy for a second.  That's because in the modern age, all media compete with each other.  Long gone and dead are the days were radio fought radio, television battled television and the print heads tossed jars of ink at  each other.

It's a bit of speculation, but it wouldn't be too surprising to find that when Russell Wangersky gets up in the morning, he's wondering what Gullage and Furlong are up to.  His online spot news is looking at VOCM.  And the other newsrooms are looking at the Telly.

As noted here yesterday, the Indy had more than enough time to fix itself both editorially and financially to make the paper work.  If it really wanted to compete with the Telegram and the rest, the Internet was the perfect way to put the talent pool in the newsroom to work five days a week at a low cost.  If there was any investigative journalism or longer form stuff, then the weekly edition was the place for it. 

Know the niche, fill it, deliver the product and offer the advertisers a solid platform for reaching their desired demographics.  It's not rocket science.  It's not easy either.  But Mark Smith lays it out succinctly all the while managing to keep his wheaties where they belong.

The sad truth is that for the past three or four years Ryan was better at breaking wind than breaking news. It didn't have to be that way.

As a last point, there's the bit that actually got the blood racing.  It's the Sunday Express thing.  The Express had a short life.  In the time it was around, the paper broke news and it ran with its own stories relentlessly.  There wasn't much in the way of bluster and trash talk.  People just worked hard at the craft of reporting.  Not everything was gold but just by doing the hard work day in and day out, the men and women there got more hits than misses. 

And to understand that is to understand the difference between being a decent newspaper and talking about being one.

So enough of the Indy and Ryan Cleary. 

The world moves on. 

Except for the handful of us who seem to have some inexplicable need to chew on the paper's entrails, the rest of the province made its decision about the Indy a long while ago.

For all the whining and bombast, for all the pleas and the grandiose claims and the nationalist posturing,  Ryan only ever managed to persuade 4,000 to have the Indy delivered to their homes each week.

The rest of us should go with the silent - and overwhelming - majority.

504,000 people can't be that wrong.