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News & Messenger On A Death Watch

By Greg L | 23 February 2012 | Manassas City, Prince William County | 6 Comments

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.

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  1. mpcinsider said on 23 Feb 2012 at 7:13 am:
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    I use to read the JM for a long time. Then the news started being stale. I like the Patch the is a very good vibe and they do report on local news way before JM does. Is Patch perfect? No, but they are getting close to it.

  2. Ray Beverage said on 23 Feb 2012 at 10:13 am:
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    I gave up the JM this year especially after their switch of no papers two days of week…why bother. Agree they are disappointing - I was approached in September by one of the reporters who said the editors were looking at doing a special edition on November 11th to focus on Wounded Warriors. Gave him all the various contacts and additional information.

    Of course, the editors skipped the story….guess Wounded Warrior Virginia, the Marine Wounded Warrior Regiment at Quantico, and the Veteran Directed Home & Community Based Services Program coordinated by the Prince William Area Agency on Aging was just not “newsworthy”.

    I find it interesting the free Manassas Observor that shows up in my mailbox has more local news and worth the read far excells the content of the N&M.

  3. Badger said on 23 Feb 2012 at 10:57 am:
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    Manassas has a Newspaper? I get my news from on-line sources and blogs (this being one).

  4. es_la_ley said on 23 Feb 2012 at 7:27 pm:
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    I stopped reading JM when they switched to Facebook-only commenting. They really don’t like criticism. ;-)

  5. Maureen said on 23 Feb 2012 at 8:29 pm:
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    Speaking of the devil… Our local 7-11 day labor sites are used to recruit johns for the 14 year old sex trafficking slaves of MS-13.


  6. Logical Thinker said on 26 Feb 2012 at 8:48 am:
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    First, the MJM’s big mistake was when they signaled some years ago that they simply don’t llike conservative thought when they dumped Jim Young. He gave voice to conservative views. They hated it.

    Second, when they lost Jonathan Hundley to their Waynesboro paper, they lost the only thoughtful editorial writer (and good writer) they ever had. By publishing other stuff (editorials from other papers) in that place, they further signed how completely out of touch they were with the community. Utter garbage showed up like that washed-up beach whale, John Merli with his “hate Cuccinelli” complex. He writes like a “petulant teenager”. MJM dug deep to pull him up.

    Finally, they saw their mission as one of “make politicians squirm”, rather than reporting the news. They never understood, never, that this hurt their readership because people saw through what they were doing all along. Unlike federal elected gys, the local and state politicians are known by the community and are respected for their hard work. MJM’s leadership never got this distinction.

    One day the print media will wake up and realize that the blogs, that they ridiculed from day 1, are closer to the accountability piece than they ever knew. Are the blogs perfect? No way. Do they want to get at the truth? In the main yes, and print media should take the lesson.

    There are other right models out there, like www.realclearpolitics.com where all views reside, but their bias is to the truth. A good thing.

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