The Daily Gazette Commits Suicide

August 5, 2009

The only independent daily newspaper in the region voluntarily disappears from the internet… and the blogger takes a short break from Albany politics to write an obituary

* * * UPDATE * * * The New York Times makes a similar argument about web access to print newspapers. They even mention the Daily Gazette.

Daily print newspapers have been dying a slow death for decades. If you ask the people who run newspapers why that is, they invariably blame the decline on those of us who read their newspapers. You’ve probably heard it before, that we information consumers watch too much television, our attention spans are shorter than they used to be, we’ve forgotten how to read, and my favorite, that we the readers are not in the least bit interested in keeping informed about important events.

And of course they moan that their old business model is failing because of our enduring interest in using that newfangled internets as an alternate channel for information. Newspaper managers absolutely never blame themselves or the corporations who own them for their long slow decline. Their heavy implication has always been that we the consumers have become too lazy and stupid to appreciate their finely crafted sheets of pulp.

The plain truth is that daily newspapers are dying because their content sucks. The number one reason their content sucks is because their content is dictated to them by the corporations who own them, exactly like the now defunct corporation that called itself the Communist Party did to newspapers in the old Soviet Union. If a newpaper’s content is a pack of lies and not worth remembering, why should we plunk down 75 cents and spend time studying their rag looking for news that’s not there?

The Old Gazette Building In Schenectady, Now Destroyed The Old Gazette Building In Schenectady, Now Destroyed

I am sorry to see that the locally owned Daily Gazette has decided to kill itself by ending its presence online. Other than a few odd features that the Gazette owners and managers appear to consider worthless, such as blogs, the Gazette will only exist from now on in dead tree form. I figure they will hang on for about a year before they go under, maybe two at most.

Judy Patrick, New General Manager Of The Daily Gazette Judy Patrick, New General Manager Of The Daily Gazette

Why are they doing this to themselves? It appears that they are all deeply confused and have no idea what they are doing. In an article printed in the Hearst-owned Times Union, the managing editor of the Daily Gazette, Judy Patrick, was quoted as saying that they were cutting themselves off from the internet because “the online revenue wasn’t happening.”

The Gazette is one of the less than ten percent of daily papers nationwide not owned by a corporation. This means that unlike their bigger corporate competitor the Times Union, the Gazette’s editors and writers are not required to twist their content into unreliability by political dictates from their corporate owners. That makes the Gazette valuable.

This is not to say that the Gazette’s content has been free of distortion, far from it. For one thing, the Gazette relies heavily upon the Associated Press (AP) for most of their non-local content. From the early 1980s to about 2005, the AP corporation had a virtual monopoly on news distribution to US newspapers, and like every corporate monopoly they spread disinformation and imposed censorship. The AP still does, as much as they can. For a long time now the Daily Gazette has been printing AP content straight without any discernible editorial oversight.

Art Clayman, Gazette Opinion Editor Art Clayman, Gazette Opinion Editor

Also, judging by the content of their editorial pages, the Gazette editors could best be described as a bunch of laughable throwback reactionaries. They seem to honestly believe and espouse some sort of old-fashioned knee-jerk “conservatism,” that is, an unthinking and uncompromising opposition to popular democracy. I mean, these guys and gals are almost quaint. You almost never see anymore this kind of conservatism that is mostly untainted by corporatism.

In short, I will not miss the Gazette because I agree with their editorial opinions, on the contrary. What’s important to me is that they are locally owned and locally produced, thus they are capable of reporting local news in a straight fashion. They do not need to follow political guidelines laid down by a distant and inhuman corporation.

Here’s an example. Back in 2004 a fellow named Bob Millman bought advertising airtime on radio station WGY AM, a local Clear Channel Corporation outlet. Basically, Mr. Millman used the ads to express his dissatisfaction with the failed policies of the George W. Bush administration.

Why did Mr. Millman go to so much effort? According to Metroland, “I know I’m not the only one who’s disappointed with both the radical right and the Democrats these days,” [said] Millman. “So if this lets some of them know that we’re not all happy about the direction the country is headed, I consider it money well spent.” Remember, this happened shortly before the majority of people had discovered the internet.

WGY originally accepted the ads along with Mr. Millman’s money, but Clear Channel swooped down and ordered WGY to reject the ads.

Clear Channel WGY-AM, Niskayuna Clear Channel WGY-AM, Niskayuna

Mr. Millman’s next move was most interesting. Somehow he prevailed upon former Gazette reporter Philip Schwartz to write a short article about this blatant act of corporate political censorship. And somehow the Gazette editors, despite their retrograde anti-populism, despite their profound disagreement with the politics of the copy, could find no reason to not print the article.

I recall spotting the article deep in the back pages of the Gazette, jammed under an advertisement next to the TV listings. I immediately jumped up from my lunch, ranted and raved around the house for a little bit, then proceeded to manually transcribe the article word by word into my computer, this being before optical scanners were affordable. I spent the afternoon emailing this sucker to everyone that I knew and quite a few people whom I didn’t know.

At the same time, Mr. Millman and several other people were doing the exact same thing that I was doing. It was a beautiful early example of a spontaneous and unplanned end-run around corporate media censorship. The story spread around the world and confirmed everyone’s suspicions about Clear Channel.

This important local story also spread the name of the Daily Gazette across the planet. This despite the story having almost not made it into the paper, and the Gazette having absolutely no internet presence at the time. By printing the article the Gazette editors lent an aura of legitimacy to the story that allowed it to be spread easily as a news item. Sadly, the Gazette owners and editors did not appear to understand the opportunity that had opened up for them.

Big corporate information purveyors like NPR and FOX and the NY Times rightly feel threatened by the internet because it challenges their control of information. But for a small podunk outfit like the Daily Gazette the internet is an opportunity to expand, to draw attention to itself. To repeat some outmoded terminology from an outmoded business model, you can’t buy that kind of advertising for any price.

General Manager Daniel Beck, Asst. General Manager James Grandy General Manager Daniel Beck, Asst. General Manager James Grandy

All news is local. The power of the internet comes from it’s ability to transmit and retain local information that big news organizations refuse to handle. In general, most of this local news is initially reported by local newspapers. Unfortunately, almost all of that local news dies forgotten when those local papers are tossed into the trash at the end of each day.

But when a small local newspaper plugs itself into the internet it becomes an integral part of a massive network that dwarfs even the biggest news organizations. Indeed, the internet needs local archivers of information, where would the internet be without input? In this way newsprint remains valuable in an electronic world.

The key thing for a local paper to do is to archive all the newspaper’s information and make that information freely available to anyone. This archive functions as a public record and an accessible memory of something that can not be found anywhere else in the world, the local news that is unique to the local paper.

An “online presence” gives people a reason to pay attention to a local paper like the Gazette, a reason to use it and a reason to rely on that paper and it’s unique archive of information that the newspaper itself has created.

Of course, this “online presence” has to be clean of obstructions. The Daily Gazette managers like to say that they “went online” for two years “as an experiment.” But they never really did go online, at least not enough to make their presence widely known and relied upon.

Newsroom Diversity Report For The Daily Gazette Newsroom Diversity Report For The Daily Gazette

The first thing they did wrong was to write into their web software restrictions on search engine access, which is a trick that the big boys do. If you had tried to find an article in the now defunct Gazette search engine, you wouldn’t have been able to find it with a few relevant key words like you do with Google. You would have had to have the exact words of the title of the article entered into the search engine or it simply wouldn’t appear.

When the NY Times puts such a restriction on their searchable data they sorta kinda get away with it because everyone wants NY Times articles. But who wants Daily Gazette articles, or rather, who knows that they want Gazette articles ahead of time? Most people are looking for information, they’re not surfing to find local newspapers.

If I want to know about, say, electronic voting machine irregularities in local districts (a subject which is utterly taboo in the national corporate media) I am not going to go searching for the Herald Picayune of Upper Horsebutt Falls, Ohio. I am going to search for electronic voting machine irregularities. If the Herald Picayune has that information available for me, then I will become aware of their paper and of the relevant municipalities of Ohio.

But if I cannot easily access the Daily Gazette, or not at all, how will I know whether or not there are e-machine voting irregularities in the Capital District? The answer is that I won’t know, I won’t be able to find out. And maybe that sort of thing is deliberate (it often is) or maybe it’s simply incompetence. Either way it amounts to a restriction on vital information.

Carl Strock Carl Strock

And here’s the dumbest thing that they did. Carl Strock’s column, which appears three times a week, is the one part of the paper that is most likely to be reprinted and passed around the world. So naturally these fools kept his column completely offline. While the rest of the paper was online, the only way to read his column was off of the dead tree version.

Perhaps the managers of the Gazette think that Mr. Strock’s column is not worth being made available and not worth archiving? I know well that I’m not the only person who, on more than one occasion, has laboriously clipped one of his columns, scanned it and carefully corrected the scanning errors. All this so that I could share one of his columns with others. What a waste of time.

(Note: I’ve just discovered that for the first time ever Carl Strock’s column is suddenly available online, now that the rest of the paper is gone! Who knows what they’re thinking. You know what else? They now have a search engine that takes keywords… but the articles don’t appear. Up comes a pay notice.)

Clearly someone in charge near or at the top of the Gazette organization is having a lot of trouble wrapping his or her mind around the concept of “the internet.”

Perhaps that someone is the owner of the Gazette, a fellow named John EN Hume III. There is almost no information available about this guy. All I can say about him is that he appears to be afflicted with hereditary wealth, a condition which usually causes one to have a severely limited imagination and a lack of real business sense. But that is merely speculation, this fellow seems to value his privacy.

All In The Family: Gazette Owner John EN Hume Jr. Father Of John III, At The Mic 1949 All In The Family: Gazette Owner John EN Hume Jr.
Father Of John III, At The Mic 1949

It seems really silly that I have to explain all this doesn’t it? I’ve noticed that most old farts like me (over 40, or so) are pretty frickin’ stupid when it comes to understanding the internet. Unfortunately, old farts like me are currently in charge of society. So until we all die off we will continue to cause unnecessary obstructions to everybody else, and murder independent newspapers like the Daily Gazette with our ignorance.

There is no reason why printed newspapers have to die. Recorded music did not disappear because of the radio, movies did not disappear because of television. In fact, movie theaters underwent a major revival because of the rise of VCRs, the ability to play movies at home on your own TV set. Suddenly movies became easily accessible and people responded by becoming interested in movie theaters again.

Well, you can’t expect to teach a dumb old dog who thinks he knows it all to get up and play fetch with a new stick. All you can do is get a new puppy if you want to play. The best thing that could happen is for the owner to pass the Daily Gazette on to someone local who could adapt the paper to the 21st century, someone willing to keep this venerable information channel away from filthy deadly corporate hands.

Gee, I hope that happens. But realistically, it looks like I’m going to have to learn to live without the Daily Gazette.

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