Sunday, February 28, 2010

Palo Alto free daily war gets national play

The New York Times has discovered there's a newspaper war in Palo Alto, California. But what the article downplays is that the battle is between two FREE daily newspapers.

In one corner is the Palo Alto Daily News, founded in 1995 by Dave Price (pictured in front of his news racks) and Jim Pavelich. They sold the paper and now its owned by MediaNews Group, a chain of 54 newspapers. In the other corner is the Daily Post, the paper Price and Pavelich started in 2008.

While downplaying the free angle, the Times article emphasizes the importance of local news coverage and an active editorial page in the success of a free daily paper. For the record, both the Post and Daily News maintain they're in the black.

When it comes to editorial page perspectives, the Times article quotes local officials as criticizing the Post. You can infer that they probably like the other papers in the community. Price is pleased to be criticized by government officials, saying his paper is tougher than its rivals.

It appears the two free dailies are serving up much more news than one monopoly local paper would.

The Times quotes a local high school journalism teacher, Esther Wojcicki, as saying: “I am really happy that we have all these papers ... I wish that kind of choice were available to more people in more areas.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Court OK needed for sale of Arizona paper

Randy Miller, former owner of the free Colorado Daily in Boulder, is inching closer to becoming the owner of the Pulizer Prize-winning East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., also a free daily.

Miller has been in talks with the Tribune's owner, Freedom Communications of Irvine, Calif., since late last year. Initially, he wanted to only buy the Tribune, but a new deal that is before the court handling Freedom's bankruptcy calls for him to also buy some of the weekly papers the Trib publishes.

Freedom is hoping for court approval in March. Court papers put the purchase price at $2.05 million.

Freedom said it is selling the Tribune at a loss, according to a report in the Tribune. The chain is losing about $20,000 a week on its suburban Phoenix papers. Miller has said he hopes to keep a "substantial number" of the Tribune's remaining 140 employees.

Miller, who sold the Colorado Daily in 2007, owns a 50,000-circulation free-distribution weekly in suburban north Tucson and the Telluride (Colo.) Daily Planet, a free daily.

The Tribune switched from paid to free in October 2007. But earlier this year owner Freedom Communications entered into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, which forced the company to either close or sell unprofitable operations. Freedom put the Tribune up for sale, and if no buyer was found by Dec. 31, the paper was to close.

The Tribune won a Pulitzer last year for a series that showed how a sheriff's emphasis on enforcing immigration laws reduced response times for other types of crime.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Metro is the first free daily? Not exactly

We chuckled this morning when we read this news release in which Metro, the Swedish-based chain of free dailies, claimed it was "the first ever free daily newspaper."

Metro's claim must have come as surprise to the people working at free dailies in places like Boulder, Vail, Aspen, Conway, N.H., and Palo Alto, California.

While Metro says it was the first free daily (starting in 1995), The Colorado Daily in Boulder is actually the oldest continually operating free daily newspaper.

It had been a student newspaper at the University of Colorado until the spring of 1970 when the school's regents kicked it off campus for its editorials against the Vietnam War. To survive without assistance from the university, the Colorado Daily became a community newspaper. But unlike traditional community papers, the Colorado Daily remained free and stuck with its tabloid-size format.

I don't think it's a coincidence that Colorado today has more free dailies than any other state.

Before the Colorado Daily, there were two other free dailies -- the San Fernando Valley's Los Angeles Daily News and the Contra Costa Times, based in Walnut Creek, Calif., east of San Francisco. However, the Contra Costa paper switched to paid in the 1960s and L.A. Daily News began charging in 1982.

When Metro started in 1995, the Colorado Daily had been an independent free community daily for 15 years. The next free daily was the Aspen Daily News, which was started by Dave Danforth in 1979. For the first several years, Danforth's paper was printed on a single sheet of paper on a sheet-fed press. In 1984, Jim Pavelich began the Vail Daily. In 1988, the Aspen paper got a competitor when Dave Price converted the weekly in that ski resort town to a daily. In 1989, Mark Guerringue and Adam Hirshan started the Conway Daily Sun in a New Hampshire ski town. The Sun has since launched free dailies in Berlin, Laconia, and most recently the Portland, Maine, Daily Sun.

In 1995, the year Metro started in Sweden, the Palo Alto Daily News began in Northern California. Unlike Metro, which took years to show any profit, the Palo Alto paper hit break-even nine months after opening. Ten years later, the Daily News was sold to Knight Ridder for $25 million, a record price for any free daily.

A lot of history in the free-daily industry took place before the first issue of Metro ever hit the streets. We're not sure why Metro is daring enough to issue an inaccurate news release, but it hurts the credibility of a news organization that relies upon the public's trust.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Name of Denver free daily is hijacked online

Kristie Hannon, publisher of the free Denver Daily News, was surprised as anyone to discover there was a Web site calling itself the Denver Daily News that was publishing local news stories.

What's worse, this faux Denver Daily News site was taking stories from other Denver publications and randomly changing words, sort of like the game Mad Libs, where players randomly change words in a story or song.

The Denver alt-weekly Westword gave this example. A Denver Post story originally reported this: "A sexual assault on a 13-year-old girl and a subsequent attack on her brother has resulted in multiple charges against the suspect."

The fake Denver Daily News site reported it this way: "A passionate conflict upon a 13-year-old lady as well as a successive conflict upon her hermit has resulted in mixed charges opposite a suspect."

Hannon has sent an e-mail to the site, which is registered in Denmark, telling it to stop. The fake site is violating both the Denver Daily News trademark as well as the copyright on the stories it is lifting and changing.