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.