About Me

  • I've spent more than 25 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies and startups. You can read more about me here.

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« Magazines, Eating Their Young | Main | Grasping at Straws »

December 22, 2008



you are exactly right.

In April 2006, I established an internet only news site for Sedona, Arizona at www.Sedona.biz. I did this because the town's flagship paper, The Sedona Red Rock News, had a pitiful presence on the internet. I concluded, I believe correctly, that they didn't want to develop a web presence for fear of cannibalizing their print edition. This opened the door for a competitor to step in.

As it so happens, Sedona.biz now receives over 20,000 uniques per month; and the town has a population of 12,000. However, 3 million visitors come to Sedona each year. The local paper, therefore, is missing a huge component of those who look for Sedona on the internet.

The cost to operate Sedona.biz is quite low, and the local paper, eventhough they own their own printer, still has to print and deliver them. And, btw, they only publish on Tues & Fri, making our daily news site extremely competitive.

You can ignore the web, if you wish, but it just leaves the door open for competitors to step in. Maybe I'll take a look at Monmouth......seems like there's an opportunity there.

Jay Rosen

Mark: I would love a Potts post on this idea, and what's wrong--or, heck, what's right--with it.


Former New York Times reporter, now a professor at Stanford University, says newspapers should push for an anti-trust exemption that would allow them to collude on price and begin charging for news on the Net.

One of my commenters on Twitter said it would have to be a RICO exemption, and the cartel would have to force everyone to charge. Me, I think it's a bizarre solution, but not everyone does.

Potts post?

Marc Matteo

Yeah, I wonder how many web entrepreneurs will start looking at Monmouth County as a great place to start up a fledgling news web site and burst Jacobson's little insulated bubble. They'd have no online competition after all.

I too live in an area where the local semi-weekly has all but eschewed the web and I keep thinking that it presents a ripe opportunity.

John Duncan

Mark: You're right about a lot of this. Except that doing nothing and waiting is a legitimate tactic that would have served even those Metro papers well. What good has being online done for most of those titles, never mind the much smaller ones? Would they be better off entering the online era now with a pile of reserved cash rather than having to unpick a 1998 website that has drained them of capital for 10 years?

Anyway, very nice post and if anyone is interested the expanded version of this argument is at http://blog.inksniffer.com/2008/12/22/off-the-web-and-in-the-black-why-doing-nothing-is-sometimes-the-perfect-tactic.aspx

john duncan

not  so fast....

Not so fast, gentleman. To call Tri-City a community paper is an error and doesn't do justice to community papers like the 2 River Times and The Hub which truly "cover" the community.
Mr. Jacobsons version of community coverage is to borrow stories from these papers, slam the local daily paper and other weeklies, and launch personal attacks on it s reviewer when there is a negative article about one of his advertisers.
He doesn't cover meetings, thereby relying on second hand accounts of what went on in the "tri-city" towns and tends to beat the same old dead horse topics which are the only ones that he is familiar with. He's never met an advertiser or developer he didn't want to shill for.
Tri-City wishes it was the NY Press or Village Voice, in reality it is a freebee, that one finds stacked on top of the trash can in the local pizzeria (how fitting). It keeps the circulation costs low, however!
To call it a newspaper, whether it makes money or not, sullies the name of legitimate papers everywhere

Mark Howers


you obviously have a bone to pick with the TriCity News. I however am a big fan. It's the only weekly in Monmouth County (actually in all of NJ) that tells it like it is. Some people can't handle that I guess. Plus its funny as shit which goes a long way with me. I look at it as more of an entertainment piece than a newspaper, like the Howard Stern show, in the sense that, love it or hate it, EVERYONE reads it. And covering town meetings is boring, anyway. Who wants to read that crap. That is what the TRT and Hub are for and is probably why both are severely hurting. BECAUSE THEY'RE BORING!!!!


This is a lesson I learned in the early, early days online. (Back before the Web really existed.) Small communities will be active and passionate about tools that serve their needs.

When I was at The Daily Northwestern, some joker signed up the newspaper's email account (which I monitored) for a listserv on bagpipes. This listserv got dozens and dozens of messages a day even in the early 90s. Why? Because people who wanted to talk about bagpipes had limited outlets in which to do that.

When I later went to work for the Star Tribune, most of our rather generic talk boards got very little traffic... b/c those topics you could talk to people about at the bar, hair salon, etc.


Check out Dan Jacobson's radio interview with CBS radio here: http://www.wcbs880.com/pages/podcast/91.rss

Just scroll downt o about the middle of the page. Very interesting and gives you some good insight into the paper's success. Most interesting comment from Jacobson in the interview is that triCity's content, first and foremost, is why the paper has had such success.


It would be interesting to hear if there are other newspapers out there following just one of these two strategies (no content on the web; something similar in content, tone and voice) in order to be able to better parse out to which of these two the paper's success might be most attributable to.

I first read about TriCityNews on the Marketing Doctor's blog, which referenced the the NY Times article ( http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/22/business/media/22carr.html?partner=rss&emc=rss ) on the paper's success but didn't mention the unique format.

Interestingly enough, though, the Marketing Doctor (John Tantillo) also attributed the paper's success to its focus on its (local) target market. http://blog.marketingdoctor.tv/2008/12/30/new-jersey-newspaper-bucks-the-trend-and-wins.aspx

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