Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What a PR machine Metro must have

Here's a link to one of the most inaccurate articles we've seen on the concept of free daily newspapers. The article in Media Life magazine makes the ludicrous claim that Metro brought the concept to the United States and caused a revolution.

Long before Metro arrived in the U.S. in 2000, free dailies were booming in Colorado. The first started in 1972 when the Colorado Daily, then a student newspaper at the University of Colorado, was kicked off of campus by the school's regents over the paper's views on the Vietnam War. It became a community newspaper, albeit a very left-wing community paper, serving Boulder, a very left-wing town.

The Colorado Daily -- a free tabloid distributed in stores, restaurants, workplaces and schools -- became a model that within a decade was being replicated in Aspen and Vail. By the 1980s, more free dailies popped up in Colorado -- in Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs and Glenwood Springs. A second started in Aspen. In the 1990s, more started in Telluride, Grand Junction and Denver.

In 1995, some free daily newspaper people from Colorado went to Northern California and started the Palo Alto Daily News.

The Palo Alto Daily News was profitable within 9 months and became a model for other free dailies. Unlike the Colorado Daily, the Palo Alto Daily had more of a centrist approach to the news. The Palo Alto paper also developed a stunningly broad advertising base, with a large number of small ads (quarter page or smaller) filling as many as 120 pages per day.

Within 10 years, the Palo Alto paper had spun off separate editions in Redwood City, San Mateo, Burlingame and Los Gatos.

Its growth apparently was a concern at the long-established San Jose Mercury News, 12 miles south of Palo Alto. The parent company of the Mercury News, Knight Ridder, purchased the Palo Alto paper in 2005. The price was not disclosed. But the sale occurred just months before the Knight Ridder chain came under attack by some of its shareholders, who demanded that the company's assets be sold to the highest bidder.
    (As of this writing (June 20), it is believed that the Palo Alto Daily will be sold on June 27 to the McClatchy Co., which has agreed to sell it to MediaNews (the parent of the Denver Post). The McClatchy-MediaNews transaction is being held up by the Department of Justice, which is conducting an antitrust review to see if MediaNews will have too many newspapers in Northern California if the transaction occurs.)

Getting back to this piece in MediaLife -- the author talks about how Metro is growing, but devotes just one sentence to the important issue of profitability. In New York, it's doubtful Metro is making any money, however another free daily not mentioned in the article, AM New York, is on the verge of profitability, according to hints dropped by parent company Tribune Co., and might even be in the black by now.

This story in MediaLife also incorrectly claims that Phil Anschutz, owner of the San Francisco Examiner, got the idea of going to a free tabloid from Metro.

First, Anschutz bought the Examiner a year after it was converted from a broadsheet to a free tabloid. Second, when the previous owners, the Fang Family, converted the paper to a free tab, they said they were doing it based on the success of the Palo Alto Daily News, which is about 30 miles south of San Francisco. They didn't mention Metro.

This MediaLife story isn't the only article to make that error. See the second part of this correction in the Washington Post.

The next time somebody writes about free dailies, they should do a better job researching the history and not accept the claims Metro's PR machine apparently is churning out.