Friday, January 13, 2012

Free, at what cost?

Last week I received this disturbing email:        
Dear Roger,
          
“I advertise frequently in the Post Register to rent my apartments. I called to rent a vacancy as I always do but was not only asked for a minimum fee but also had to pay for it with a credit card instead of receiving a bill like I've done so many times in the past.
          
“I was frustrated and annoyed when a friend suggested I use Craigslist. After 2 days, my apartment rented. Craigslist didn't charge me anything, I can activate my ad on my own computer without talking to a person how (sic) puts my (sic) on hold and it's all fast and easy. 
   
“I will not use the Post Register in the future to do my advertising and will encourage others to do the same.”   
This was my response:            
“I appreciate your frustration. Perhaps it would be fair to share mine with you.
           
“The Post Register takes very seriously its commitment to follow federal housing regulations and to generally ensure that our classified ads are accurate, appropriate and meet community standards. This requires people who are trained in these matters. Craigslist makes no such commitment, and if you look at your ad there, you'll find that it's on a web site that includes thinly disguised ads for prostitution, sexual hookups and other unsavory topics, plus a good many ads that are just plain false. As you know, murderers, thieves and rapists have used Craigslist to great advantage. I can't say it any plainer.
          
“We choose to maintain our classified section carefully, to much higher standards. We think having the assurance that your ad will be on such a site is worth a small investment of your money. I'm very sorry that you don't seem to agree. 
          
“We'll never be able to compete with Craigslist in price. They'll never be able to compete with us in our commitment to high standards and serving our local community. We hope that matters to most of our readers and customers.”  
Of all the changes to newspapers wrought by the digital era, Craigslist has been one of the most significant. Since its introduction, Craigslist has nearly single-handedly reduced classified advertising revenue at newspapers by about 75 percent. The loss is lower here at the Post Register, but still significant.
          
It’s completely understandable, of course – there’s no better deal than free, and many users report that the free ads work for them.      
          
It’s also true, however, that people going onto Craigslist to look for your ad are entering some pretty unsavory territory. Go to the home page for Craigslist in eastern Idaho and within two clicks you, too, can be staring at pictures of genitalia (the cleverly named “casual encounters” category is particularly, well, unsubtle). Call me a prude, but I don’t want my business associated with that kind of environment. Do you?        
          
In 2011, the Post Register published 20 stories about Craigslist being used to lure victims of various crimes, including murder and rape.
          
Yes, the Post Register still charges a modest fee for many of its classified ads (though they all can be viewed for free on our web site). We review them for compliance with state and federal regulations, taste and accuracy. We act quickly when we are made aware of an ad that might be fraudulent or simply questionable, because we have trained employees – real human beings – doing that work.         
          
We’re also proud to say that we have the strongest classified section in the state of Idaho and that our customers tell us – over and over again – that it works, particularly if they are looking for customers who have a good income and are ready buyers. The profile of the typical newspaper reader is exactly who apartment managers are looking for.
         
Anyone can do free, and the allure is pretty obvious. But are we paying another kind of price?
         

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Your indulgence, please

What follows may come off a bit like braggadocio, but it seems in this Age of Entertainment that if we don’t explain the difference between real journalism and what passes for it in some circles, no one will. So, please indulge me.
          
The Post Register published approximately 3,000 local bylines in 2011, or about 9.5 per print edition.
           
Had I been asked to guess without knowing, my number would have been smaller. The nine-and-a-half figure doesn’t include all of the local material we print that doesn’t get a byline -- briefs, weddings, obituaries, anniversaries, calendars, letters to the editor, etc. Nor does it include the stories provided by the Associated Press. To me, it’s an astonishing achievement.
          
What it means is that, on average, we published 9.5 stories a day that rose to the level of deserving a byline, meaning that its writer -- usually a full-time reporter on our staff -- had researched and vetted the information in the story and two editors had reviewed it.
          
We’d love to double or triple the size of our reporting staff, but the quality and quantity of the work done by our 24 journalists (which includes reporters, editors, photographers, and sports writers) is substantial. Many of those stories took many hours to research write, edit, rewrite and otherwise prepare for publication.
          
This is why the concept of “citizen journalism” remains such a curious thing. Once you understand what it takes to produce a substantive local newspaper, you immediately grasp that it can’t be done by just anyone.
           
It’s certainly true that many of our story ideas come from readers and other members of our 10-county community. From there, however, the work is done by people who have training and experience in journalism, and that’s not a trivial matter.
           
Meanwhile, the 2012 Idaho Legislature is going to provide Idaho’s newspapers with the opportunity to showcase their collective journalism. Newspapers from Twin Falls, Boise, Nampa, Lewiston and Spokane, Washington -- plus Idaho Falls, of course -- have full-time reporters covering the session, in addition to one from the Associated Press. We’re pooling that coverage to get the most out of it. Each afternoon through each evening, those newspapers are coordinating their stories to ensure that our readers are getting the maximum benefit of our coverage.
           
Add to that the insightful and agreeable commentary from the likes of Corey Taule, Marty Trillhaase and Dan Popkey and the result is legislative coverage you can’t find anywhere else. Simply put, if you want to know what’s happening in the Idaho Legislature beyond sound bites, wrap-ups and partisan-tinged hyperbole, the Post Register is the place to go.
           
We thought you’d want to know.