Friday, August 23, 2013

Gain one and

Last night, I ran across a salesman for a new newspaper in town.  He had a great promotion - $20 a month for home delivery (at least for the first month) and four tickets to the local major league baseball game.

The battle is on in Long Beach with the addition this week of the Long Beach (CA) Register.  (Website to come next month).

For those of us who live in Long Beach, a large new newspaper (it's not a daily, yet) may be a good thing.  More news about our city.  A bit of competition will likely result in more in-depth and harder news coverage from all news orgs.

For PR folks, we see opportunity to get some of our clients featured since these news organizations will be battling to out-do each other.

The addition of a newspaper to a medium-sized U.S. city that already has a daily newspaper drew national attention. 

What's overlooked is that Long Beach already is busting at the seams with local news organizations. There is the weekly Grunion Gazzette (yes, it's named after the fish that runs onto the shores occasionally) that is packed with local advertising, features, local sports, interesting editorials by its owner and what some would call "hyper-local" news coverage. Oh, it's also owned by MediaNewsGroup, the same company that owns the Long Beach Press Telegram.  We also get, for some reason, the free OCWeekly, and there is the Long Beach Business Journal, the Seal Beach Sun weekly that is dropped at my front door and quickly thrown away, the paper covering Signal Hill, and...whew, let me catch my breath, the other local weekly, the Beachcomber.

There also is the Long Beach Post (started by a Long Beach city councilman), the online LBReport, and a micro-site of

And don't rule out the LA Times, which has a dedicated Long Beach staffer.

The Patch is/was a great resource and had breaking news since its former editor was an LA Times hard news reporter.  Of course with changes afoot at The Patch, and the addition of a new newspaper to Long Beach, we may not see The Patch around for too much longer.

Leading up to this week's launch, the existing news organizations in Long Beach - particularly the Press Telegram and the LBPost - put on campaigns to (a) remind us which paper really covers the city and (b) to offer advertising specials. Oh, and the MediaNewsGroup's local ownership clan - known as the LosAngelesNewspaperGroup, just redesigned the standardized website for their holdings, including the Press Telegram. And there was this "open house" by the owners of the Press Telegram to reconnect with the community.

This whole drama gets personal for me. But it also raises a question about whether such a move can be repeated (see below) in an era when newspapers are losing readers and cutting costs.

As a former assistant editor for the Los Angeles Daily News, I was hired to help launch the same thing the Register is doing - creating a hyper-local paper that "wraps" over the existing edition. The Daily News, under the Jack Kent Cooke ownership era more than 20 years ago, saw opportunity to gain footholds in regions to the north and east of the main Daily News circulation areas by producing these "wraps" for the Santa Clarita, Simi and Antelope valleys. 

These areas already had "local" newspapers but given the amount of commuters leaving these valleys to work in the main Daily News circulation areas and that many of these commuters once lived in the main Daily News circulation area before buying cheaper homes in the burbs, the business strategy concluded that loyalty would prevail and readers would want a "bigger" newspaper giving them both local and regional/national news.

For many years, this strategy worked. The local bureaus covered a lot of local hard news, features and sports. There were circulation gains.

These wraps no longer exit, falling victim when newspaper circulation took major dives across the country as free online news became popular and advertisers shifted their purchases. 

So, what is different for the Register this time? It seems to smell blood in the water and is willing to spend a lot of money to win readers.

What remains to be seen is whether the Register can secure a significant number of home delivery subscriptions at $20 a month from a city that splits its loyalties between LA County and Orange County, and from a population who gets news from multiple sources already.

What also remains to be seen is whether the Register's new publisher for the Long Beach edition (a news veteran with strong ties to LB) knows where and how to strike. By this, I mean:
  • Luring advertisers away from existing news orgs (tough, but apparently happening)
  • Tapping into what LB residents really want from a local newspaper (anything from features on where to eat, to more comprehensive, in-depth news and analysis that really tell us what's going on and why it matters).  (should be easy given half of the news staff is former P-T reporters and editors)
  • Presenting news both online and in print in readable chunks - and quickly.  (done).
The second and third points may be the key - because the Register will likely continue its "pay wall" to access its news.  Unlike every other paper serving Long Beach that offers news for free online, the Register is betting that the way it covers news will be worth it to plunk down $20 month to see it.  With so many other choices for hyper-local news and information (anything from a new restaurant opening to the upcoming city council elections to an interesting student at a local school), what will be different behind the Register's pay wall?

With so many former Press Telegram staffers at the LBRegister, potential readers will be curious to see whether news in the Register will be written and presented in similar style and depth as the P-T.  Same writers and editors - different outlet.  Will the staff be given more freedoms to cover the issues in more depth, with more aggressive style than when they were at their former newspaper?

And we live in a world of "breaking news" - which we get by ... looking it up online at free sites.  Will the Register try to give us "breaking news" in Long Beach or will they give up this component to the other LB news orgs and the LA TV/Radio stations?  (I know that I get scooped all the time by the younger crowd because they picked up local breaking news stories on their phones before I had a chance to get to my computer).

Perhaps there is some magic, some shifts that the new owners of the Register are counting on.  There is evidence of consumers swinging back to traditional news. Various papers, including the NYTimes and LATimes, have put limits on the number of free stories that can be viewed online by non-subscribers.  Why?  Because consumers apparently still desire professionally written news that can only be provided by mainstream organizations using experienced, trained reporters, editors and photographers. And, they are now willing to pay for it again.

There is only so many Kardashian stories we can take before we lock onto the meaningful news of the day - an enterprise story that captures your mind. Among the broadcast networks, CBS news seems to have also locked onto this strategy.

The question in Long Beach, therefore, is whether this beach community senses it's not getting the type and AMOUNT of local news it deserves from the main local paper? The LA Newspaper Group has combined its news gathering resources in a cost-saving strategy that allows each edition to put local news on the first page mixed with stories from reporters in other areas of Southern California. In many ways, the "wrap" philosophy is working at LANG. 

The LBRegister is making a big point of showcasing its "local" writers by printing their headshots next to their bylines.  LANG-owned papers will carry bylines that also list a reporter's email address - but those email addresses could be from the Daily Breeze, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune and...

So, is $5 more a month to subscribe the Register worth it for existing P-T subscribers?  

Curiosity may cause some P-T readers to drop and "try out" the new paper.

But my money is on content and consistency.  The look and feel of the LBRegister in its first week (26 pages of nothing but local news and sports with plenty of bright, big photos in Thursday's edition - plus the rest of the Register)  certainly makes this blogger feel he's getting more local news.

The content is there - but you would expect a great start for a new newspaper. Can it keep delivering this level of content? Consistency.

The long-term strategy will be to out-perform the other local news organizations with content.  Readers will sniff this out.  If the LBRegister gets enough readers, then advertisers will stick around. At least, that's how I would sell this to the owners of the Register.  Stay tuned.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Link this Google

The buzz about Google's new policy (actually reads more like a clarification) regarding links in news releases is, well, getting some buzz.

One columnist went as far as to suggest the new policy meant the death of PR agencies.  Nice headline grabbing there.

Fortunately, there are always solutions...and smart PR people.  As long-term PR pros know, changes in Google policy do not prevent us from doing our jobs and employing the range of tactics and strategies we are now using and the new ones we'll develop to work around any obstacle.

For those who live and die by search results, I would suggest daily readings at Several useful tips here.  They were the ones that apparently "broke" the news about the Google changes. 

Our friends at Business Wire were quick to provide solutions. Make sure you read this.

 And, I have four links in this blog post. Any one's guess as to how Google will treat them.

Keep calm and carry on.