Friday, April 16, 2010

California's Ink-Stained Wretches

Our friends and colleagues from newspapers across California blew into Monterey on Thursday for the annual three-day California Newspaper Publishers Association gathering.

While virtually all the attendees represent newspapers that readers have traditionally picked up off the driveway each morning and held in their hands, a significant amount of time is being spent at the convention this week about ways that newspapers can take advantage of their presence in the digital marketplace.

The kickoff luncheon speaker was Andrew Davis, executive director of the American Press Institute in Reston, Va. The focus of his message was the future of news, and all of it concentrated on the possibilities that the web, social networks and e-commerce have to offer. Several other general session presentations this week have similar themes. There has been a lot of talk about the wisdom of asking readers to pay for the content they view on newspapers' digital sites.

We are, of course, very interested in those presentations. Despite all of the "bad press" that newspapers generate about their own alleged pending demise, the truth is that most newspapers attract more readers now than ever before. Not all of it is the printed product — and circulation figures are certainly down for most every newspaper in the country. In The Herald's case, for instance, the combination of newspapers in circulation and the unique "hits" our website attracts each day exceeds the circulation numbers The Herald boasted back when I started working here 25 years ago, when only a print edition was available.

I believe people still hunger for news and good stories — and that newspapers are ultimately the primary source for most of the stuff readers eventually find on TV, on the web, on the radio and on their social networking sites. The problem is that no one has yet to figure out how to lasso a workable revenue flow from online readers or from the aggregators who steal our stuff. And newspapers were never able to respond to the success of free-classified sites like Craigslist.

SIDE NOTE: I was happy to see that the California Newspaper Pubishers Association hired from the local talent pool while filling out the entertainment slots for its convention. Among the performers who are appearing at the convention are Taelen Thomas, who roamed the dinner crowd Thursday as John Steinbeck, the Dizzy Grover & Crover Coe jazz ensemble and keyboardist Scott Brown. And the culinary team at Monterey Plaza Hotel was scheduled for a cooking demonstration for the CNPA crowd Friday afternoon.

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