The Copley era at the Union-Tribune drew to a close this week. Given that the new owners aren’t really experienced in the media world, (and, yes, I know that it was the real estate that really made this deal work for them) I have a few modest suggestions for improving the paper.
1) Wake up and smell the coffee. San Diego isn’t the Navy retirement village that it used to be. Most of the City’s electorate is somewhere to the “left” of the newspaper’s editorial policies. The next employees that are offered buyouts should be: Karin Winner (Editor), William Osborn (Senior Editor/Opinion) and Robert Kittle (Editor of the Editorial Page). The litmus tests for their replacements should be an open mind and a commitment to what’s best for the people of San Diego, the nation and the world.
2) Take most of the “National” news off the front page, unless it’s original content or has a direct local twist. The Wall Street Journal’s summary of noteworthy national stories is a good model for what you could do with the front page, given that your reading public gets most of its news elsewhere, anyway.
3) Make a real commitment to local coverage. What goes on at City Hall and the County Building is only part of the picture. San Diego is made of neighborhoods and what goes on in those districts gets largely ignored unless it’s crime, scandal or sexually related. While I understand that all those things sell newspapers, I also know that there are a million other–sometimes positive–things that occur. If opening local bureaus isn’t feasible financially, then “outsourcing” may be a solution.
4) Pick a local issue (or two) and use your bully pulpit to make a difference. Education, for instance, is a much larger issue than simply trying to find bad things to say about the teacher’s union. (Do magnet schools work?) Or transportation. Or urban sprawl.
5) Commit coverage to the activities of everyday people. For too long the paper has been a platform for the Copley family’s rich friends to show off their new gowns and tuxedos while attending dinners in support of the bourgeois charity of the moment. You know what story got the most hits on the OBRag website? Pictures of the Christmas parade. Go figure.
6) Integrate the “paper” part of your media business with the web. Review websites, share cool links, reprint (& pay for) the best local blog postings. Have you ever looked at the number of foodie blogs in San Diego? It’s just about become a cottage industry. The same can be said about local sports blogs. And, of course, there are neighborhood blogs.
Oh, and, while you’re at it, your website really, really sucks.
7) Get off your dammed pedestal. The era of “we know what’s best” journalism and editorializing are over. There are a lot of voices out there. The AP stylebook is not The Bible. Make sure that you hear, respect, and even-gasp-give some of them the opportunity to replace some of your tired old op-ed columnists.
8) Having said all this, there are parts of the paper that I would urge you to continue. The comics and the puzzles are no-brainers. (The paper’s failure to monetize these sections is perplexing to me, however.) Scott Lafee’s science articles are actually informative and, given the large numbers of people employed in science related industries, it would seem to me that this kind of reporting would be something worth expanding, even.
Have a good day. You’ve got your work cut out for you.