The Darwin Pages

Yesterday’s post about the Dayton Daily News sparked some comments. It also made the phone ring. No, Editor Kevin Riley didn’t call (though he should have – note, I’d give you a link to a page about him- but I can’t find anything on their lame-o site)- it was Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley (who still doesn’t have his own page on the County site). He’s been hearing the same thing- is the Dayton Daily News scaring potential business/new residents away? Are they doing more harm than good- and the answer, well, lets look at our economy, our job losses, our population losses- and general perception about Dayton. Would the New York Times make it front page news that a developer was moving to Florida? Even if it was Donald Trump- I doubt it.

Around 25 years ago, some Wright State film students (including my friend John Adkins of Mainsail Production Services) made a documentary about the local news: “If it bleeds, it leads.” That should tell you something about the local news mentality- then and now.

So, in a day when people are so starved for information that they’ll even read something like this post, from a “nobody” (at least that’s what the Dayton Daily implied I was when I first ran for office so long ago)- and 80% of Internet use starts with Search- why are they actually making the stories shorter? Giving us less content, and wasting time with repeating the same story in 2 places- one kid sized and the other, kid sized plus?

I’ll tell you why, because they (the newspaper industry) don’t have a clue what they are doing in this new media landscape- and are trying anything and everything to stay afloat- except the right things- so, here is my prescription for solving the problems of the Dayton Daily News and our community.

The cognoscenti factor
Realize that the people who bother to buy the paper like to think of themselves as smarter than those who don’t. They are, after all, making an investment in being informed. Give them the highest quality content available- written exquisetly, showing off insight and knowledge of the subject matter that gives the paper the right to write on the subject.

The single sales myth
The number of people who will run out and buy a single copy if you have a great story above the fold is an outdated myth- at least in Dayton OH. In case the editors didn’t realize it- we don’t have street level news vendors hawking papers in Dayton, haven’t as long as I’ve had them. The few newspaper boxes that are left, aren’t going to make your sales numbers. Even when stopping for gas or coffee, fewer people are passing your rack. If the story is that good- they’ll get it online- for free (and this is your revenue source- ya idiots).

It’s a knowledge economy- stock up
Good people, who’ve been covering the news in this town for years, who know the community better than your editor from out of town- are the people who are going to get you the stories with juice. They are the ones who will have the CEO’s cell phone number, or the ability to call the talkative assistant to the Commissioner who spills the beans. Turnover in your “newsroom” is the kiss of death. If you can’t keep the people in house- you better have some sort of network of stringers who you pay well to keep you connected- or start looking to the blogging world for content generators.

Build a community- literally
In building this new “community” of informed people- you have to realize that your part in the community is to keep it together, and involved- you don’t do that by constantly slamming the community- you are a part of it as well. So, instead of promoting the antics of local petty thieves and second rate hucksters on the front page with your simple-minded police blotter coverage- relegate the dreck of our community to the “Darwin Pageâ„¢” where those that shouldn’t be in our gene pool get their coverage. If it’s there everyday- and NOT on the front page, it will give people even more reason to want to open the paper and see who was getting voted off our little island. It adds a whole new level of coffee cooler talk to the paper.

Smart people win – it’s called evolution
Think Global/Act Local- If we think of our community of readers as our local cognoscenti, and we want to empower them to take our community to new levels of peace, prosperity and pride- give us something to gnaw on, give us articles about “things that work” and work to identify our local lug heads who stand in the way. It’s the new form of “investigative journalism.” My friend Sally Hogshead wrote my personal mantra in her amazing book “Radical Careering” – it’s “Radical truth #15: Aspire to be the dumbest person in the room” – let the paper go on a witch hunt for the luddites who stand in the way of moving our community forward. If you can’t stand up and defend your reasoning on why we should fund the latest corporate welfare, with good, sound, reliable information- you shouldn’t be in a position of power in our community. If we can out the idiots, and get the smartest people in the room onto the dais to represent us- we might not be in this mess the paper loves to write about (and you might sell a hell of a lot more papers).

This is turning into a long post- maybe we should continue this discussion in comments? What do you, my informed thought leaders in Dayton have to say?

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5 Responses

  1. Bruce Kettelle April 7, 2007 / 12:06 pm
    This is one of your best and most constructive rants in recent memory. I’m not sure I can do it any additional justice by adding a comment but then I’d be guilty of “Radical Truth #15”.

    As an online news weekly publisher in Trotwood it is not that hard to find constructive and interesting angles to write stories that people will read and talk about. I have long thought the root of our bleeding lead problem stems from the DDN as the other “news” sources seem to mimic the stories appearing there. I have not noticed much original news gathering from our local TV stations for example.

    Yes investigative reporting is time consuming (therefore expensive) but I feel the short and longterm rewards justify the investment. Especially in the long term by raising it up a notch and helping to attract new inuitive people to the area would mean more people (profit) for the region and the media as well.

    Perhaps some more specific story ideas in these comments could provide examples for the DDN staffers that are sure to stumble across these posts.

    I’ll start it off with some of my pet stories I’d like to see.
    “How Dayton Is Portraying Itself Outside the Region”
    “A Researched Discussion of What Public Money Investments Have Paid Off and Which Ones We Should Not Try Again”
    “When Bad Decisions Are Made Name Names And Why” re: Flood Park
    “What Will Be Accomplished With Planned Improvements To 75 Through Downtown” (besides better traffic flow)
    “Can Public Schools Benefit By Becoming County Wide School Districts?”

    Ok that’s enough for your next five issues.

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  2. Bryan April 7, 2007 / 12:22 pm
    I am a student at the University of Dayton in the MPA program. I am currently taking Don Vermillion and Ellen Belcher’s course Government and the Media. For an assignment we are asked to contrast a story that appears in a traditional media outlet and one from a non-traditional media outlet, such as a blog. I am using a story that Esrati posted on his blog, and would like to ask some general questions concerning blogs and newspapers to both Esrati and anyone else who would like to answer them on his blog. I hope to at least here the responses to the questions from Esrati, but anyone is more than welcome to add their point of view. I think we can all learn a lot from this discussion.

    General Questions:
    What are the advantages of obtaining news from the newspaper?
    What are the disadvantages of obtaining news from the newspaper?
    What limits exist that hinder the newspapers ability to present the news?
    Why are newspapers important for our society and democracy?
    Do newspapers offer anything that non-traditional news outlets do not?
    What are the advantages of obtaining news from blogs?
    What are the disadvantages of obtaining news from blogs?
    What advantages do blogs offer that newspapers do not?
    Are blogs important for our society? If so, why?
    What effects can blogs have on our society?
    What implications do blogs have for our democracy?
    What implications do blogs have on the role of the public?
    Do you believe that people should gather their news from multiple sources, including newspapers and blogs?
    Article Specific Questions:
    Why do you think the Dayton Daily News is covering the story concerning the public funding of stadiums as well as the economic impact of stadiums and teams on Dayton?
    Why do you think they included the story concerning the Dragon’s President testifying in Washington?
    How does your blog articles “Where to build the Hockey Stadium,” and “Is there a plan B to look at,” add to the news content of the whole situation?
    What has been the most effective means for presenting that story? (The way the newspaper has covered it, or the way the blog has covered it)
    Has the newspaper covered the issue of public funding of stadiums, and the economic impact of stadiums well? Explain.
    Has the blog covered the issue of public funding of stadiums, and the economic impact of stadiums well? Explain.

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  3. David Esrati April 7, 2007 / 1:13 pm

    Hi Bryan-
    That’s quite an assignment- and I have a full weekend of work waiting for me.
    I’ll start with a big picture answer: the first problem is defining a “newspaper” anymore. The thing, delivered to our doorstep is only really useful if you are training a puppy, washing windows, painting, lining a bird cage or packing to leave town.
    A news gathering organization- has to be defined by the quality of the content- not the mode of delivery. It’s all about how large a community it can build- using the resources (print, online, video, etc) it has available to connect with it’s audience.
    The key difference between a professional news organization and social media- is in the fact checking and the amount of resources they can deploy to gather and create content. Remember- ANYONE can deliver it now- there is no longer an advantage to buying ink by the barrel.
    As I said in your class- I detest the term “blog”- it’s just a Website with a sophisticated, yet easy to use interface- that allows for interaction with the reader. The DDN site makes a mistake in trying to split it’s content by “news” and by “blog”- but, that’s because none of their management understands the web (proven because I can’t find my way to anything resembling a staff page).
    If newspapers want to stay relevant they have to stop measuring themselves by copies sold- but by audiences reached. It’s amazing to me that part of the DDN move wasn’t the consolidation of CH 7 news room with the papers. Maybe that’s part 2.
    A key to remember is Nicholas Negroponte’s maxim: “Bits, not atoms” keep everything that starts digital- digital.
    When you get to the stadium questions: The DDN covered Murphy in Congress a day after the Cleveland Plain Dealer and this blog mentioned it. They did it delicately- because they are a major sponsor- and in bed with Mandalay and the Dragons. No other single A ball club would get the coverage the Dragons do. The Bombers have never gotten close to the coverage and they are AA and in first place.
    My hockey stadium posts are tilting at windmills. I play hockey- I love it- I dream of a first class local facility. I also grew up in rinks- and wasn’t in trouble because I was always skating. I think ice rinks are a wonderful community asset- and a good place to integrate kids (there is a long story for another time here). When Tony Capizzi talked about a stadium- he was laughed at too- but, between giving major corporations money- and building community assets- I think I prefer to invest in the community. The ED/GE funds story in todays paper was mostly corporate welfare.
    See Bruce’s comments above about an analysis of past projects.
    As to effects of the web on democracy- I think it will be the biggest thing ever. Eventually, we’ll come to expect to read a site like this to evaluate candidates and their views. We’ll be able to discuss issues with them- and weigh in on major issues. Once our public offices get with the program (figure 20 or so years) many issues will have much more public input- and less from lobbyists. Time will tell- but, I know if we keep going the way we’re going – instead of having the best politicians money can buy- we’ll have only the politicians that the richest can buy- and we’ll end up with class warfare and the fall of democracy.
    I’m sorry I didn’t go line by line- but I’ve got a commercial to make. Hope this helped.

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  4. Jeff April 9, 2007 / 4:09 pm
    ” Give them the highest quality content available- written exquisetly, showing off insight and knowledge of the subject matter that gives the paper the right to write on the subject.”

    ..That has always been my beef about the DDN. It was such a weak paper in terms of features. I was spoiled by papers like the Chicago papers, the Courier Journal/Louisville Times, and the excellent & fun to read Sunday edition of the SF Chronicle/Examiner and the excellent (for political reporting) Sacramento Bee.

    Coming to Dayton, the DDN seemed to be pitched to a certain banal level. It wasn’t worth reading for anything more than the basic news. The paper didn’t even have a good book review page. It had weak arts coverage. It did eventually start that Go section, which has been doing a passable job for entertainment (better than the Dayton City Paper, actually), but the paper could be a lot better than it is, if it wouldn’t be so dumbed-down.

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