Media General, the parent company of the Manassas News & Messenger, has announced it is exploring selling off it’s “loss making newspaper operations.” There’s little doubt that our local birdcage liner will be one of the money-losing operations to go on the block — the only question is whether anyone would be stupid enough to buy it unless they were armed with a total business makeover plan and the courage and discipline to implement it. Buying this turkey and leaving it as it is would be one of the dumbest business decisions ever.
Local news, whether in print or electronic form can be good business, as outfits like Patch have demonstrated in some markets. A huge problem with the News & Messenger is that it hasn’t figured out what it is — whether it’s a local paper that focuses on local stories, or a place to put in plenty of filler articles from news services and out-of-the-area affiliates that take up the space in between overpriced advertisements. With stories strangely containing paragraphs contain no more than two sentences, constraints on reporters that don’t allow them to do more than drive-by coverage of stories, staffing that has about three times as many advertising sales agents as reporters, and a mentality where local reporters are treated like slave labor, it’s not hard to figure out why this is a failing business model. It’s as if someone designed this outfit to fail from the outset.
Here at home we don’t subscribe to the rag, but my wife sometimes likes to go dumpster-diving for the huge piles of undelivered papers that end up in area recycling containers in order to grab coupons. When employees would rather throw a product out rather than deliver it to customers, it kinda tells you something about the long-term viability of the enterprise. It’s not going to last very long when even those who work for it clearly hate the thing.
My expectation is that no buyer will ever emerge to take the News & Messenger off Media General’s hands. The brand simply has no value. No one ever tells me what a great source of information it is, all I ever hear is how frustrated they are with the coverage, how bad the stories are, and how InsideNova.com is so littered with advertisements it crashes their browsers. It’s probably better to let this entirely die, and have something else come in and replace it. I can see someone starting up something akin to PotomacLocal.com in Manassas, or perhaps an entirely new newspaper starting up where well written, well reported, stories are what’s important.
There’s a good market here, and lots is happening in this area. I wouldn’t be blogging for going on six years now, and writing over four thousand articles if there wasn’t anything interesting going on. Prince William Living, a local lifestyle magazine, started up recently and they’re doing rather well by focusing on content first rather than trying to be a vehicle for advertisements disguised as a content publisher. The market is growing, it needs information, but it just needs some quality rather than the apparent conviction by the News & Messenger that we’re just a bunch of nearly illiterate fools who can’t understand anything requiring cognitive talents above an elementary school level and are eager to be suckered into buying mortgage refinancing deals from shady credit repair hucksters.
I will not mourn the demise of Media General or their substandard, annoyingly poor local newspaper operations. It’s time someone else did this, and clearing out this deadfall may just provide the opportunity for someone else who can do the job well to come in and start serving this community like it deserves to be served.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
Leave a Reply