Saturday, July 29, 2006

To Our Readers

There's been quite a bit of buzz about the Times-Dispatch and the changes the paper has apparently been contemplating. For those not getting the emails or hearing the scuttlebutt, these changes reportedly will involve cutting local arts coverage -- like information on currently running theater productions, for instance -- and shifting much of it to the TD website.

The paper has attempted to quell some of the blowback it's been getting on this issue with a "To our readers" note below the fold of today's Metro section. For me, this note doesn't exactly put my mind at ease. In fact, most of it is written in pseudo-positive marketing speech that I used to employ all the time when I wrote fundraising copy. The stated "goal" is to offer more event coverage -- and yet the specifics listed later (shifting listings to the web site, launching a weekly email newsletter, etc.) essentially add up to fewer inches of copy in the physical paper devoted to the arts. This seems like a sideways strategy to achieve this "goal."

I'll reserve judgement on the "revamp" of the Weekend section but it also sounds suspicious. "Quick information hits for busy readers"? That to me translates to sound-bites or capsule reviews versus anything in-depth. The cute little denigration of their product ("you can't lost it, the dog can't eat it...") also means you can't grab it when you leave the house and read it on the bus; you can't rip out a listing and carry it with you; and you can't carry it and a cup of coffee up into bed and peruse it at your leisure on a Sunday morning. If they're telling me that things are better online, should I subscribe to the paper at all?

I guess the best summary is included right there in the second-to-last paragraph: "some of the information we now print in the newspaper will remain there." So basically, some of it will remain, but rest assured, some of it will be cut.

Look, I understand a paper is a business and in the marketplace today you have to do what you have to do to remain competitive. But this note smacks of the pandering, inexact language that politicians use and that real reporters used to take politicians to task for. If you have to cut things, say something like "we've decided that for the best interest of the paper / economic reality forces us to / editorial priorities have shifted such that... some things have got to go and here they are." All of the "happy speak" about slimmed down coverage grabbing my attention like a bottle rocket sets off fireworks for me alright, but not in a good way. Mostly, it makes me suspicious, a little angry and a little sad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We've all been told to write letters to the editor, but what can we do? They are going to make those cuts no matter what we say, no matter what we do. What do you do when your hometown newspaper turn's it's back on your community? I've worked in other towns where the local art and theatre scene was deemed worthy of much more coverage than Richmond has gotten in years. Even though Richmond has continued to produce some of the most wonderful shows I've ever seen. They SHOULD be ashamed. But when did you ever hear of stupid people having a conscience?