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Poster child for the changing media

Original post made by Dolores Ciardelli, editor of Danville Express, on Jan 7, 2010

Today I was on a panel for Leadership San Ramon Valley on the Changing Face of Media for its Communications and Media Day. Below is, more or less, my presentation.

My business has probably been the most affected by the "new media" because I am - was - in the newspaper business, now the news delivery business, which we also refer to as an online news source, a digital news source or our media product.

I could be the poster child for the changing media, living and working through the transition. My father worked for the old San Jose Mercury-Herald, he was sports editor at one time, and I was raised in a household that subscribed to numerous newspapers - we were taking 10 at one time - and I was always fascinated by the fact that they arrived at our house everyday, so full of news and features and ads. I enjoyed the comics when I was younger. And Ann Landers when I was a teenager. Then in college I moved on to hard news. The Vietnam War was hard to ignore - and my boyfriend was being drafted.

I majored in Journalism in college, and loved not just the process of gathering the news and writing it up. I also liked the physical aspect - the galley proofs, the late nights at the printers, even the ink on my fingers - as I spent two semesters working on the Spartan Daily.

Of course it's an understatement to say that computers have changed everything. Suddenly we could instantly change words, change them back, copy and paste, save numerous drafts efficiently. Well, anyone here over 40-45 knows what I'm talking about. I started to like doing interviews over the phone because I could type on my computer and get quotes exact - if the person spoke at the right speed.

Then soon layouts were being done on computers, and they were sent electronically to the printer. So we never had to see the printer - and the printer didn't have to be nearby.

Another big change has been that the Internet has eliminated the need for the extensive research libraries that each newspaper used to maintain, even as recently as the '90s when I was working at the Contra Costa Times. I now can, in an instant, check a spelling or a fact.

Also, e-mail has made it possible to communicate with people 24 hours a day instead of having to wait until we are both free to talk to one another. And I can talk to several people at once.

So up until that point these technological advances were great for me. Then a funny thing happened and I assume this is what you've been discussing all morning. Newspapers started to put their news online and people liked it. With all that information available at our fingertips and 24 hours a day - and for free - who needed newspapers?

Of course newspapers are paid for by advertising; classified ads were always a huge source of income. But the Internet is a perfect medium for classified ads. So printed newspapers today are struggling and those that are surviving are a shadow of themselves.

The problem for advertisers has always s been: Is anyone looking at their ads? The conventional wisdom has been that if it is an eye-catching ad, and if the newspaper gets into homes, then yes, people are seeing it. Of course, the newspaper can't just get into the house - it has to be worth picking up and reading.

And this is where the Danville Weekly excelled - in my humble opinion.

I was the founding editor of the Danville Weekly newspaper in May 2005. It had sections for news, sports, living stories, an editorial page, obituaries, births, wedding, a question man, our calendar section and some classified ads and real estate. It soon proved to be very popular.

But this was a very expensive form of journalism. We did not use any news services. I had two reporters, then one, so there was my salary and theirs. We had an office in Danville with an office manager who also did calendar, and three people on our ad sales team. Our production - layout and design - was done in the larger Pleasanton Weekly office. And eventually, with the economy and the shift to online, it became clear that we could not sustain the expense.

We had a Web site from the beginning. We started sending out Express headlines from Danville last February and started the San Ramon Express in the spring as a way to reach into that city as a news source.

We printed our last edition of the Danville Weekly on Oct. 2 and closed our Danville office. I am now the online editor and reporter for both Danville and San Ramon and work out of the Pleasanton office. We send out our Express editions to those who sign up for Danville or for San Ramon every morning, Monday through Friday.

One good thing about the Expresses and even our Web sites is that we don't have to follow the weekly news cycle. It used to be very important that big things happened by Wednesday morning since we went to press at noon Wednesday. Now we are send out news daily and can send out bulletins at any time that people will see as soon as they open their e-mail if they sign up. We also send out a mailer, once a month to Danville and once a month to San Ramon, to promote our online product and show how to use it.

I had thought - I still think - that newspapers will survive, perhaps in a weekly form or as an analysis. Somehow professional journalists are going to need to be paid to gather the news and present it objectively. I'm not sure how it will all pan out but I think small community newspapers such as ours may have a future. But for now we've gone online.

There actually seems to be a disconnect because so many people tell me how much they miss the Danville Weekly. Older people, of course, but also younger people. They liked to carry it with them and stick it in their bags for soccer games. There really is no other newspaper doing what we did - or doing what we are doing now - delivering the very local news. Maybe the advertisers just didn't see this.

My company - Embarcadero Publishing Co. - has changed its name to Embarcadero Media Co. to reflect its new mission to deliver news via its Web sites and its Express editions. By the way, our lead newspaper, the Palo Alto Weekly, was the first in the world to have its total contents put online, back in the days when few had heard about the World Wide Web.

Another very good thing about our community newspaper going online is that our format allows our readers to comment very easily in our Town Forum section. Readers can comment on stories, then they comment on each others' comments. Or sometimes they use the forum to call attention to their own events. This is a great sharing tool that we're happy to provide as part of the community. Of course it can also be a headache to maintain because some people just like to get on and make trouble so it has to be monitored very closely.

I still start every day reading the Chronicle and the Times - the print editions! - and hope they don't go away. But at my job, I like what the online product can do - the immediacy of it, the fact that I can communicate daily, even hourly if there is a breaking story. Just like our cell phones are always with us, news can always reach us and we can always send it out.

Comments (3)

Like this comment
Posted by Hal Bailey
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2010 at 7:14 am

Dear Dolores,

Applause! A job well done and reported.

AS one who has operated a Linotype, done stone work, run press and did bindery, I appreciate the reflection of earlier printing. As one who was part of a photocomposition company and the emergence of computer typesetting and graphics, I understand the transition. As part of Silicon Valley since 1968, I continue to see the technologies emerge that changed print to a desktop and handheld image and sound.

What I haven't seen, Dolores, is any better delivery of news that would replace fair and balanced journalism by responsible reporters and editors. You are an excellent example of that continuing service to informed citizens and an exceptional wordsmith.

Thank you,


Like this comment
Posted by Gunslinger
a resident of Danville
on Jan 8, 2010 at 7:27 am

You're paper could've easily survived in this area of conservatives and elders who don't like newfangled things. The weakly didn't fail because of the international decline in paper-reading. It failed because it alienated it's readership. That group home article in and of itself made a lot of people cancel their subscriptions. Now people tune in to listen to the commentators, not what you're gonna write.

Like this comment
Posted by Ralph N. Shirlet
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2010 at 9:56 am

Ralph N. Shirlet is a registered user.

Dear Dolores,

As further commentators consider review of readership of the Danville Weekly and Danville Express, it should be important to research the realities of the majority in our region. Your coverage area, by actual polling, has few conservatives and liberals and is a majority of moderates. Age distribution in your coverage area is shifting toward a primary age group of 34 to 50 with rapid decline in retirement age residents. Likely readership of on-line news services such as the Danville Express will be a majority of readers of less than 50 years of age.

As commentators research available readership, they will find political, economic and cultural interests focused toward human issues of family, neighborhood and community. The majority of available readership is very-savvy, well-read and rely on AP, Reuters and similar professional, global journalism for well-balanced world and national news.

Certainly evident in your available readership is the absence of interest in broadcast news entertainment provided by Rush, Glenn, Bill, Nancy and other performers. Such entertainment without scope beyond maintaining continuing viewers and listeners simply is not journalism to a broad majority of available readers in your coverage area.

There is easy validation of such demographics available for research by your forum commentators and little reason to be without such knowledge in formulating their commentary.

Hal/CDSI Research

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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