Friday, November 07, 2008

Head-to-head competition claims a free daily

A locally-owned free daily serving Eureka, California will print its last edition on Saturday after battling for five years with the town's chain-owned paid daily, according to The Associated Press.

Eureka, a town of about 27,000, is in far Northern California near the Oregon border. It overlooks the Pacific Ocean coast.

The Eureka Reporter was started by a local developer and banker, Rob Arkley, a conservative who felt the town's longtime paid daily, the Times-Standard, was too liberal.

The Times-Standard is owned by MediaNews Group, a chain of 57 dailies headed by Dean Singleton, who was a big backer of President Bush. Yet Singleton's papers are mostly liberal. Singleton doesn't tell his editors to slant the news.

And, oddly enough, Arkley didn't attempt to tell the journalists who worked for the Reporter how to cover the news either. The only hint of conservatism in the Reporter came on the editorial page.

Arkley's Eureka Reporter scooped up numerous awards. It also has a state-of-the-art press that produced vidid photos and ads.

Probably the smartest thing Arkley did was hire Judi Pollace, a highly respected veteran of the Times-Standard who produced a credible product. I understand that Judy was also an attendee at the 2007 small daily conference in Florida. (She is seen here in a photo that appeared in a 2006 San Francisco Chronicle article about the Eureka newspaper battle. The photo at top, showing a billboard on Highway 101 between Arcata and Eureka, is also from that story. Both were shot by Chris Stewart.)

As the U.S. economy hit tough times this year, Singleton went after the competition with a couple of lawsuits over economic matters. The first concerned legal ads and whether the Eureka Reporter fit the narrow criteria to publish them. A local court agreed with the Reporter, but an appeals court did not — and the Reporter lost all of its revenue from legal ads.

Singleton's second lawsuit alleged that Arkley was selling ads in the Eureka Reporter at a loss in order to take business away from the Times-Standard.

A few weeks ago, Arkley called Singleton and said, "It was time to do something," according to a Times-Standard story. Arkley searched for a new buyer for his paper, Singleton said, but found none.

Singleton said the ad-pricing suit is now moot and he has agreed to allow Arkley to provide editorial pages to the Times-Standard twice a week.

The Times-Standard quoted a local assistant journalism professor, Marcy Burstiner, who said she's never heard of an agreement like the freshly formed one between the two Eureka papers, where one newspaper agrees to run another's editorials. While the agreement will preserve the Reporter's voice, Burstiner said she's not sure it's worth saving.

”It was a crazy editorial voice,” she said. “It was actually a very interesting paper, but their editorials were crazy. Personally I don't think that editorial voice reflected that of the Eureka community.”

The Times-Standard story on the closing of its rival ended with this:
    For his part, Singleton said his thoughts are with those at the Reporter who will be losing jobs, and complimented Arkley on igniting a newspaper war the likes of which are growing rarer and rarer.

    ”Many wealthy people who start a newspaper would open it up for their own purposes -- I didn't see that,” Singleton said. “He assembled a good staff and let them go, and probably lost a lot of money in the process. He loves this community.”