The Albuquerque Tribune
I’ve been a little hesitant to comment on the closure of the Albuquerque Tribune. For those readers not in the greater Albuquerque area (Hi Dad!) the Tribune is/was our afternoon paper. It’s never had the vast readership of the Albuquerque Journal, or the advantage of running in the mornings. For what it lacked there, it worked with aggressive journalism, local news focus, a tech and gaming section (which I liked), and great photography.
I have previously worked at the competition (the Journal) and the photography at the Tribune was amazing! They put a lot of emphasis on the visual presentation of the pictures in the Tribune. At the Journal the photography was the last thing they would talk about in the editorial meetings. Usually the photo editor would be asked for his picture ideas at the end of the meeting, after all of the stories and where they would be in the paper were already selected.
The Trib doesn’t have to pass away. It has been in Albuquerque for 85 years. But now it is on the edge of the cliff, about to be pushed over by Scripps – the company that owns them. Interestingly, one of my sources inside the Trib told me that Scripps will keep receiving money from the Joint Operating Agreement, even without producing a product. The company gets to keep the cash flow and doesn’t have to pay expenses.
Must be nice. But looking at this from a different angle, this could be the best thing to ever happen to the Tribune. If someone else gets the newspaper with no JOA to constrain it, they can be financially sound and competitive at the same time.
I took media management in college. I’ve toyed with the idea of running a news outlet before, but that takes a decent amount of cash and time. The first I don’t have, and the second I only marginally have.
But, in keeping with the persona of William de Worde – who ended up creating a newspaper in the Discworld’s city of Ankh Morpork – if I had the money and time, here is how I would revamp the Tribune.
The biggest obstacle to overcome would be the up-front financial cost. Whoever buys the Tribune will have to find a place the house the office, presses and ad people. Since the Albuquerque Journal publisher has stated that he will not sign a new Joint Operating Agreement with anyone to buy the Tribune, these resources would have to be acquired.
IMHO, not signing a JOA with any Tribune buyer is foolish because if the Journal’s publisher were to offer a JOA to a Trib purchaser, he could keep his position of strength – majority of ad revenue, keep his morning distribution free, and remain the only Sunday newspaper.
Once the Tribune is freed of the JOA then it can compete with the Journal on more equal footing. Being able to publish a morning paper is very important – there are very few afternoon papers anymore, and outside of the Seattle Times none of them are gaining readership. People have things they would rather do (aka sit in front of the TV and let their brains turn to Jello) then read a paper. Also, publishing a Sunday paper is where the higher readership rates are still located. And with no JOA, the new Tribune gets to do just that.
I’d keep most of the staff intact. There are a few reporters and columnists I would get rid of, I won’t name anyone here. Replace the deadwood reporters with the best you can get a hold of, and take some of the solid reporters from the Journal who are languishing in secondary writing roles and offer them these positions. (It’s a business war, and all’s fair in love, war, and cookie making)
Then, I’d redesign the Tribune from a (Danger! Newspaper-Speak eminent) from a broadsheet (the size of the paper that it current is) to a Tabloid-style, like the Rocky Mountain News of the N.Y. Post. This should reduce the cost of paper for a few years, and a lot of newspapers designed for the younger generations (like Chicago’s Red Eye) are using the same design.
That leads to the next point, one of the Trib’s strengths is that the editors were willing to try more daring things with design. If the Trib is bought by new owners, they need to keep that tradition alive. Use your design and writing to attract the younger generation, the ones turning away from newspapers.
Finally (for now, this is a little bit of a long post), the Tribune’s Web site has been one of it’s strongest strengths for a while. Any new owner would have to use the advantage that comes with a stronger Web presence than the NY Times or Washington Post.
Any new management of the Trib understands the idea of Media Convergence, where a reporter is expected to not only write the story for the paper, but put one together for the Web site, then record some video for the Web site (or act as an anchor for a web/broadcast) and maybe even record some audio for a podcast. With the limited staff and equipment the Trib had available, they did an amazing job!