Friday, May 11, 2001

Boston Metro overcomes obstacles

The free Boston Metro, which launched only last week, prevailed in a fight over whether it can distribute at subway stations. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority started confiscating news racks for the new paper even before it began publishing. Publisher Russel Pergament told Editor & Publisher that all he wanted was to have Metro treated like Boston's other dailies, The Globe and the Herald. Transit authorities used some of the excuses free daily publishers are used to hearing from government officials -- like the one about how a free daily creates litter problems. Pergament also complained that his hawkers, who tend to be Hispanic and black, were singled out by transit agency inspectors. He called that racial discrimination. Now the transit agency is backing off and letting Metro distribute side by side with the big papers. What's more, the Globe has reduced its price from 50 cents to 25 cents near transit stations.

Thursday, May 03, 2001

Metro launches edition in Boston

Metro International, the chain from Sweden with some 18 papers worldwide, launched an edition in Boston today with a planned circulation of 170,000. The publisher is Russell Pergament and the editor is Dan Caccavaro who come from a string of successful weeklies covering Boston's suburbs. Boston Metro will be part of a chain that includes editions in Toronto and Philadelphia, primarily at attracting morning commuters, especially those who ride subways. As with most papers in the Metro International model, the Boston paper will be pitched to the 18-to-35 year-old market with strong local sports, national and international news summaries, local columnists and local reporting.

Tuesday, May 01, 2001

No, the Swedes didn't invent the free daily

The paper by University of Amsterdam Prof. Piet Bakker that we cited below has one glaring error in it. As a few readers of this blog have told us, the Swedish chain called Metro did not invent the free daily newspaper in 1995, contrary to Bakker's assertion. Metro makes the same claim as well. Truth is that free dailies have been going strong in the United States since the 1970s. And there's evidence that they existed here before that.

The first free daily in the U.S. started in the early 1960s in Walnut Creek, southeast of San Francisco. A local businessman, Dean Lesher, began what is now known as the Contra Costa Times. His paper was a broadsheet, while most free dailies are tabloid sized. But he began it as a free paper to attract readers. By the late 1960s, the Contra Costa Times was converted to paid circulation.

A few years later, regents at the University of Colorado pulled the plug on the student-run Colorado Daily because of its editorials against the Vietnam War. The staff of the paper regrouped, found an office about a block away from campus and continued to publish as independent paper owned by a non-profit the staff established. In order to attract advertisers, they focused on both campus and non-campus news. The format was a success for several years.

Other University of Colorado students, once they graduated, started free dailies in various Colorado mountain towns including Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge in the 1970s and 80s.

In 1995 — the same year Metro claimed to have invented the free daily — veteran newsmen behind the Vail Daily (Jim Pavelich), Aspen Times (Dave Price) and Aspen Daily News (Dave Danforth) teamed up to start the Palo Alto Daily News in a suburb south of San Francisco. The Palo Alto paper has become a wild success, spawning sister papers and copycats.

It may be that the Amsterdam professor hasn't spent much time researching the U.S. newspaper market. What he finds here might open his eyes about how free dailies got started.

Saturday, April 28, 2001

Oldest free daily in U.S. sold

In Boulder, Colorado, a liberal university town on the edge of the Rockies, former hippies from the 60s rule. They dominate politics, the law, business, academics and the media. So if somebody buys a local media outlet with the odd idea of making a profit ... they're under attack from Day One. So it goes for Randy Miller (right). Sure, the former Detroit Free Press deputy managing editor and former Lee Newspapers executive is a progressive (what liberals call themselves these days). But he's not far enough left for Westword, an alt-weekly from Denver which makes a good share of its profits from porno ads. Westword crucifies Miller in this piece. But if Miller hadn't bought the Colorado Daily, it probably would have gone out of business ... a little fact lost on the folks at Westword.

The Colorado Daily began in the last century as the student newspaper of the University of Colorado. In 1970, it was kicked off campus by the university's regents who disagreed with its editors' strenuous views on the Vietnam war. The editors of the paper regrouped and rented an office a block off campus above a bar known as The Sink. The Sink was located in a part of Boulder known as "The Hill" where protesters and police mixed it up in violent confrontations. (At the time, I was a newsman at Denver's KOA-TV (now KCNC-TV), and covered many violent anti-war protests in Boulder.) The Daily found itself in a sink-or-swim situation -- either sell ads or close. So, in order to attract a broader array of advertisers than just those catering to students, the Daily began covering the entire city of Boulder, a community of about 50,000 people or so. Boulder's perennial paid paper, the Daily Camera, snoozed as the Colorado Daily became a potent force in terms of both advertising and news coverage. The Daily thrived in the 1970s and early 80s, and students went on after graduation to start their own free dailies in Vail, Aspen, Telluride, Summit County and other Colorado destinations. But back in Boulder, management turnovers and embezzlement by an employee landed the Daily flat on its back.

Enter Randy Miller. When he made minor changes, such as limiting the length of editorials or banning the jumping of stories from page to page, employees balked. Employees erroneously took some of Miller's actions as clues he was trying to kiss up to university officials or taking a more pro-business stance (something you can't do in Boulder!). Despite the gripes from the professional complainers, Miller isn't going anywhere. And the nation's oldest free daily is still in business. And it's still left wing, er, progressive.

By the way, the photo of Randy Miller was shot by Susan Goldstein and we found it in Westword.

Sunday, April 22, 2001

Academic studies free daily business models

An academic paper has been published by a University of Amsterdam professor that analyzes the free daily industry. Here is a link. Prof. Piet Bakker says the success of free papers is the result of their efficient cost structure and their ability to reach a new and relatively young audience. He says there are basically two types -- those launched by entrepreneurs entering a new market and those launched defensively by existing paid papers with the intent of keeping newcomers out.

Thursday, March 29, 2001

The new free daily nobody is talking about

One of the most exciting free dailies in the U.S. is in Nashville. The City Paper (that's it's name) launched last November with 17 full-time news staffers and a daily circulation of 40,000. It is taking on Nashville's big daily, The Tennessean, with a daily circulation of 186,793 and 260,733 on Sundays. The Tennessean, owned by Gannett, has not faced daily competition since the Nashville Banner closed on Feb. 20, 1998 with a circulation of 40,633.

The City Paper is being financed by a local computer software entrepreneur, Brian Brown, who has no previous newspaper experience. However, every member of his newsroom staff has worked at other dailies, many at The Tennessean.

Nationally, there's been no coverage that I can find of the launch of The City Paper. I found a few local stories in Nashville (which form the basis of this posting), but the media that has written so much about Metro International's launches in North America has ignored The City Paper.

While The Tennessean sees itself as a regional paper, and it carries a lot of national news as well, The City Paper is much more local. "News as it hits your neighborhood, not as it hits the City Council agenda. We're trying to carve our own niche," Catherine Mayhew, City Paper executive editor, told the trade publication Brandweek. Brandweek is one of the few places where I found any information about The City Paper. The quote above is from its February 5 issue.

Wednesday, March 21, 2001

PBS' report on free daily newspapers

This link is to the script of the "News Hour with Jim Lehrer" report on the rise of free daily newspapers. Terence Smith and his crew produced an accurate report, perhaps the first for broadcast journalists, on what makes free dailies tick. Since then, however, the free dailies in New York operated by the Post and NY Daily News have closed, and two new free dailies have taken their place -- Metro and AM New York. Also in this story is Dave Price, then editor and publisher of the Palo Alto Daily News, which has since been acquired for an undisclosed sum by Knight Ridder -- probably because it was making life difficult for the struggling San Jose Mercury News. Price was also the founding editor of the Aspen Times Daily, one of the world's first free dailies. Ted Fang, publisher of the San Francisco Examiner, is long gone. The Examiner was purchased by billionaire Phillip Anschutz, who has been pouring millions into it, but hasn't made a profit -- at least not yet.

Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Welcome to my 'blog' about free dailies

While traditional newspapers are suffering from declining circulation, there is a bright spot in the newspaper industry -- free daily newspapers. I've spotted several of them over the years across the country, and have decided to chronicle their growth with this Web log (or blog).

My name is Clyde Davis, and I have toiled in broadcasting in Oklahoma and Colorado. In print, I sold advertising in New Mexico and Texas. My last stop before retirement was at the Houston Post.

Now I'm retired, I paint, walk 2 miles a day and enjoy several newspapers. I want them to survive. But they won't unless they change how they do business. And that's what excites me about free dailies. I was infuriated when the Post closed because, had it been managed differently, it could have survived. There were certainly enough advertisers and readers in the Houston metro area to support both papers.

My purpose in this Web log is to inform like-minded people about the progress of free dailies. I wish to report what happens to them, good or bad. For the record, I have no ties to any of them whatsoever. I don't even own stock in any newspaper companies. I am an interested observer -- with a point of view.