Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Commentary: Hard-Learned Local Media Lessons

Last week, The Post-Star announced that its free weekly publication ADK Talk would cease publication (naturally, the blurb was buried in the middle of its local section).

This was the Glens Falls daily’s latest failed attempt to compete with the region’s independent weekly The Chronicle. ADK Talk had replaced two separate but nearly identical Post-Star weeklies called The Glens Falls Leader and The Queensbury Citizen, an experiment which also failed. The Lee Enterprises-owned paper announced that it had abandoned the weekly experiment to “pursue initiatives online” with its website.

The demise of ADK Talk and its predecessors revealed some interesting lessons about the local media landscape.

Identity Matters
The Chronicle is celebrating its 30th birthday because it’s distinctive. The independent weekly has a very strong identity in the community. Many people swear by it. Some people people swear at it. But everyone knows what The Chronicle is all about. Personally, I used to view it with disdain but have to come appreciate the value of a venue for independent voices in a corporate media dominated culture; and a lot of other people apparently do too.

ADK Talk and its predecessors were never able to develop that identity because they were seen as just another Post-Star/Lee Enterprises vehicle. It’s certainly reassuring for outlets like Adirondack Almanack that people still place value on the concept of locally-driven, independent media.

Content Matters

ADK Talk and its predecessors ran almost exclusively light feature stories. Sources tell me that the purpose of The Post-Star‘s weeklies was to entice non-subscribers to purchase the daily product.

But stories about middle school kids going on field trips and the like may be mildly interesting but are a poor hook to convince the undecided that the daily product would provide information essential to their lives. The structure of the weeklies seemed poorly thought out.

Free Isn’t Evil
Newspaper pooh-bahs are possibly the only business people who go out of their way to publicly insult their customers. People who want/expect their news for free are regularly treated as leeches by newspaper big wigs.

“How can newspapers make money (survive) if the end user refuses to pay for the content?” they sniff, ignoring the fact that the terrestrial broadcast media (over the air radio and television) make money even though the content is free to the end user. Most weeklies are for profit businesses and are also free to the reader. Websites like Pro Publica are offering top quality journalism free to the end user.

ADK Talk and its predecessors were not merely distributed (free to the end user) at places like supermarkets and libraries. They were also mailed to thousands of local households that didn’t subscribe to the daily product. So Lee Enterprises put forth the significant expense of not only publishing the weeklies and having them trucked to public venues but also the postage of having them sent via the USPS.

When you spend that much time, energy and money to give your product away, how can you criticize or be surprised at the expectation that news be free?

Ultimately, the region will barely notice the disappearance of this advertising vehicle. Lee Enterprises was recently ranked as the most inefficient company in the publishing industry. One can only hope that the trend will be bucked here and that the money formerly poured into ADK Talk will be used to slow the precipitous demise of quality in The Post-Star‘s main product: the daily newspaper itself.

Related Stories


A nearly-lifelong resident of Glens Falls, Brian Farenell has been involved in writing and journalism since his high school days. After receiving a bachelor's degree from Clarkson University, he spent two years in the Peace Corps in the Republic of Guinea, West Africa. Although his traditional focuses have been international affairs (he's been published in Foreign Policy magazine) and media criticism, Brian maintains his own blog at Musings of a (Fairly) Young Contrarian, where he also offers insights and ideas about national and local issues.




2 Responses

  1. Anthony F. Hall says: