Monday, January 04, 2016

Remembering the Joplin Daily

A reader reminded me yesterday that it was 10 years ago that Gatehouse Media launched what should have been the first serious competitor to the Joplin Globe in a long time- the Joplin Daily.

The idea was a bold one. It was called Joplin Daily, but the newspaper was only published once a week with a chief purpose of directing readers toward the website, which would be updated daily.

Joplin Daily was launched with a considerable amount of fanfare, including promotion in television ads and billboards.

Gatehouse did everything right- until the newspaper began publishing.

The Daily never had much of a chance. All promotion stopped once the first few issues had been published. No effort was made to sell the online product. Apparently no one ever bothered to tell the advertising sales crew that the website was the focus. It used the same approach that it would have used for a typical newspaper and even worse, no salespeople were ever dedicated solely to selling ads for the Daily. The sales staff of the Big Nickel, another Gatehouse publication, was used.

The Daily had a three-person news staff, which obviously put it at a disadvantage when it came to competing with the Globe. The product was still solid, thanks to Editor John Hacker, now managing editor of the Carthage Press, who has been the best shoe leather reporter in this area for years, and Kaylea Hutson, now managing editor of the Grove Sun, whose coverage of education was far superior than that provided by the Globe.

In order for an undermanned newspaper staff to have a chance against a bloated competitor, it has to take a different approach. That was never really done by the Daily. It had good stories and good photos, but there was never anything that really set it apart from the Globe. The Daily never made a case for its continued existence and thus lasted only a little more than a year.

After the Daily shut down, I examined the reasons in a Turner Report post on March 15, 2007:

What went wrong with the Joplin Daily?

1. GateHouse officials promoted the first issue heavily, but then failed to get copies of the print edition to much of Joplin, and the same areas were never adequately sampled (many were never sampled at all). There are Joplin residents who will never mourn the passing of the newspaper, because they never knew it existed.

2. Except for positive news reporting, the paper never demonstrated any major differences between its brand of reporting and the brand employed by the Globe.

3. The Daily had few, if any, stories that would create the kind of water cooler buzz that would steer readers in its direction. Hacker and his staff did their jobs well, but never had the kind of major scoops that could put the Daily on the map. A lot of that was due to the pressures placed on what was essentially a three-person staff to put out a daily publication, something that is virtually impossible if you plan to adequately cover a town of 40,000 plus.

4. Promotion for the Daily was non-existent after the first few weeks. GateHouse never gave it a chance.

5. The Daily never had even one full-time ad salesperson and never had anyone who made a concentrated sales pitch for the web product.

The Joplin Daily should never have existed if GateHouse didn't plan to give it a fighting chance to succeed. Sadly, it could have succeeded, and would have had at least a ray of hope if the following steps had been taken:

1. The website should have been easier to navigate instead of being one of GateHouse's cookie-cutter sites. A greater emphasis on comments and discussion could have kept readers coming back to the website every day.

2. The minute the decision was made to make the website and not the print edition the focus, GateHouse should have emphasized links, links, and more links. Links should have been offered to anything remotely connected with Joplin, the school systems, city offices, the public library, businesses. If people want to know what is going on in Joplin, this would have given them a one-stop site, which would make it far more attractive to potential advertisers.

3. Make up for the lack of manpower by using links to increase coverage of Joplin news. The Daily could have offered links to legislation sponsored by Joplin's representatives and senator, legislation that affected Joplin residents or businesses, on the state or national level. Provide links to newspaper stories about Roy Blunt, Kit Bond, Claire McCaskill, Matt Blunt, other statewide officials. When people or businesses with connections to Joplin are in the news provide links to the stories. Links could have been done quickly and could have greatly expanded the coverage provided by the Daily.

4. Take major issues that hit the city and featurize them. Keep providing the nuts-and-bolts coverage, but blanket the website with information and features. Show how the major news stories affect the readers. Scan or link to documents that provide background. Obviously, a small staff does not have the capability to take on the Globe on every story, but by picking and choosing the right battles and offering far more coverage on those stories, the Daily could have staked out a claim to readership. Alternative publications thrive in many areas across the United States.

5. Build a stable of columnists that people actually want to read. One failure of the Daily is that it never had regular columnists that people want to come back to read every day or every week. In a town where the Globe's Mike Pound is the only daily columnist, the target would not have to be set too high. Unfortunately, the Daily took the advertising department approach to lining up columnists. In other words, let's find a columnist who represents the Chamber, let's find one that covers this niche or that niche, the Humane Society or some museum. Forget about that nonsense. Find people who can write, and who are willing to share their opinions, and give them a forum. Find people who can tell a story.

6. Find things that are not being covered by the Globe and cover them well. The positive news about schools was a step in the right direction, but there are other areas that could also be effective. Media coverage, comings and goings at the radio and television stations and offer coverage of the trials and travails of the Joplin Globe itself. You certainly are not going to read about those in the Globe. The New York tabloids and the Village Voice constantly make hay by writing about problems at the New York Times.

7. Find a voice. The Daily never did. A competitor needs to be feisty and deliver stories with attitude and a little bit of a swagger. If the Globe is the voice of big business, then the Daily should have been the voice of the little guy.

The failure of the Joplin Daily discouraged anyone from mounting a startup against the Globe, but the same conditions that made it feasible to launch a competitor in 2006 exist 10 years later.

For the most part, the Globe has become a parody of a news organization and more an arm of the portion of the city's well-to-do that has been willing to sacrifice the integrity of city government and the Joplin R-8 School District to achieve its own ends. Consider the following:

-To this day, people who rely solely on the Joplin Globe for their news have no idea why it was necessary for the C. J. Huff era to end in the R-8 School District.

-The same holds true with the city where those who rely on the Globe still think of former City Manager Mark Rohr as a misunderstood hero who was railroaded out of Joplin and believe that former City Councilman Mike Woolston made a noble sacrifice by resigning.

-The Globe has steadfastly did its best to protect the local special interests against the three investigations that showed conclusively how government was being mismanaged- the Loraine Report and the state audits of the city and school district.

-The newspaper continues unsuccessfully to pass off an average columnist, Mike Pound, as being the voice of the community and has given considerable space to guest columnists like Anson Burlingame and Jeff Caldwell, who have little appeal to any readers.

-The Globe's investigative reporting is limited and often seems designed to prove that public figures who are under fire are misunderstood and do not deserve criticism. Remember the efforts the Globe went to (unsuccessfully) in an effort to back up C. J. Huff's contention that the school district really did not have a problem with teachers leaving?

-The Globe still does nothing to provide a voice for the average citizen in this community.

Many of the suggestions I made in 2007 would work just as well today. I have used many of them on the Turner Report/Inside Joplin blogs, which have continued to grow steadily and this is just one person, with no other reporters and no advertising staff.

A startup newspaper with a small staff similar numberwise to the Joplin Daily would have a fighting chance because of the goodwill that has been squandered by the Globe over the past few years. There is a segment of the business community that has been alienated by the newspaper. The main problem you would run into is that many business people have a tendency to hold back advertising from a new publication until they see if it is going to last, thus preventing the new publications from getting the money they need to succeed.

Another possibility would be to buy an existing publication and tailor it as a competitor to the Globe. For instance, the Webb City Sentinel is for sale, along with the shopper, the Wise Buyer. I would never suggest doing anything to change the Sentinel from being a Webb City newspaper, but expanding it to twice a week with an edition concentrating on Joplin/Jasper County news, would be feasible and would also enable the new edition to immediately begin seeking legal advertising, something that makes more money for smaller newspapers because they have less overhead. (Startup newspapers have to wait a certain amount of time to be able to sell legal advertising, while a second edition of the Sentinel geared to Joplin/Jasper County could begin publishing them immediately.)

A reporter or two and aggressive ad sales, along with well chosen columnists, and the type of approach I described above should enable that kind of weekly to inflict damage upon the Globe. Someone willing to use that approach could either establish a viable competitor to the Globe, or it could follow the example set by Jimmie Sexton when he published the weekly Neosho Post as a competitor to the Neosho Daily News. Sexton not only made money with his venture, but after a few years, made a pretty penny when the Daily bought him out to stop the bleeding.

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