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.