My name is Allan Cawl, I have lived in Boise less than two weeks, and I am pleased to announce this will be the last edition of Boise Weekly.
I am aware this news may come as a disappointment, even a shock, to many readers, especially those people who have followed BW faithfully throughout its 17-year lifespan. But I am confident that by the time you have finished this entire article, you will understand why BW could not continue as it was, and that you will be anticipating the product that will take its place. The new owner, N-Corp-Al—headquartered in London and New York—has named this new incarnation of BW the Treasure Valley Weekly Post, and until further notice, I will act as publisher and editor-in-chief.
More about me, N-Corp-Al, and the new paper later. But first, I must thank former owner/publisher Sally Freeman for all the help and advice she has provided me since I came to Boise. I am sure this was not an easy thing for her to do. She may take consolation from the fact that the troubles that befell her publication were not unique to her, and that she is not going through these difficult times alone.
Owning a newspaper has never been for the cautious or the timid, and never before the present has that been more true. The last several years have witnessed an epidemic of layoffs, cutbacks and downscaling in the print media. No facet of the newspaper publishing business has been immune. The pain is being been felt from the editorial board to the loading dock.
Given the current business climate, this process of elimination is accelerating. Several factors have contributed to the decline and spreading irrelevance of print journalism.
• The slump in advertising revenue
Newspapers have not supported themselves with subscriptions and "vendor sales" for decades. The so-called "alternative press" recognized as far back as the mid-1960s that they could give their product away for free and make a subsistence margin of profit from advertising revenue alone. Mainstream dailies took the practice much further by using their subscription rosters and extensive distribution facilities to disseminate advertising circulars ranging from half-page "short shots" to catalogue-sized "multi-graphs," most often inserted in the Sunday editions and on premier shopping days prior to holidays. National retail giants—e.g. Sears, Best Buy and Lowe's—have relied heavily on this method.
But fewer and fewer people are reading newspapers, preferring to keep up with events online, and increasingly, retailers are turning to other means of getting their message out. The Internet has become a dominating force in advertising. The revenue loss to papers has been staggering. Even the alternative press has lost an enormous share of the crucial personal ads market to Web sites such as Craigslist, Jobs.com and UsedCars.net.
• The financial meltdown
Current economic conditions have deteriorated to such an extent that even the major retailers have made deep cuts in their advertising budgets. So many people have lost their jobs, or fear losing their jobs, that the public is simply not spending the consumer dollars it takes to maintain an advertising-friendly atmosphere.
• Loss of readership
As noted earlier, fewer people are reading newspapers. Daily circulation has decreased by more than 20 percent in the last two decades. Internet news sources and 24/7 cable television news stations account for most of this migration, but not all. The more print journalism has been exposed for its out-of-touch political leanings, the more our center-right American public has turned away, having decided the "mainstream media" cannot be trusted to report in a balanced and non-prejudicial manner.
• Predatory unions
Whatever is left of the publishing business that isn't wasting away from loss of advertising, loss of consumerism and loss of readership base is being eroded from the inside by powerful union leaders who refuse to make the drastic concessions necessary to keep the print media viable.
The culmination of these forces has been devastating on the institutionalized print media, and the phenomenon reaches from coast to coast. Papers of all sizes, from the stale giant dailies to the eccentric weeklies, are either in deep trouble or will be soon.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased printing two weeks ago, and before that it was the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. The Washington Post, Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald and the San Francisco Chronicle are all either facing bankruptcy or, at the least, bleeding money.
Hardly a newspaper large or small exists that isn't in the same fix. The Gannett Company, the largest publisher of newspapers in the United States, has eliminated 22 percent of its work force in the last two years. The McClatchy organization is on that same downhill slide. Idaho Statesman readers are already aware of the steps their hometown daily (a McClatchy property) has taken to cut costs, announcing round after round of layoffs and the complete elimination of its on-site printing facilities.
The alternative press has not escaped the culling process. Even if the economy were to turn today, it is too late for the Detroit Workers Press, the Taos Arts Weekly, the San Jose Progressive, and the Tulsa Troubled Times. Just since the first of this year, these weekly papers have closed their doors for good.
"Good journalism is good business practice; good business supports great journalism."
— Lachlan Murdoch
Following on their heels into oblivion are at least 20 other free press "rags," including the Up The Man! in Atlanta and the Columbus Community Advocate. Locally, the Boise Weekly has been struggling to stay afloat, having never recovered from a dismal 2008 final quarter in terms of advertising revenue.
Heinrich Broth, a media analyst with the Institute of North American Raw Pulp Producers, has released a bleak review of the current state of the nation's print journalism. He closes by saying, "Expect to see dead and dying newspapers stacking up like cordwood outside a Saskatchewan trailer house." That statement has reverberated throughout the industry with the ring of doom.
Standing apart from the desolate future of most print media are those organizations under the protective umbrella of News Corporation, often called simply News Corp. Supported, enhanced and, when necessary, subsidized by an enormous network of television and radio concerns, film and recording companies and a publishing empire that reaches around the world, News Corp. is weathering the storm under the steady guidance of founder, former-CEO and Board Chairman Rupert Murdoch.
With instincts honed in the free-for-all business atmosphere of Australia, Murdoch was early to realize that providing the consumer with exactly what they want, combined with innovative publishing techniques and the most aggressive marketing, is the only way to save those print outlets not vigorous enough to survive on their own.
Until now, Murdoch has never felt compelled to expand his reach into the alternative press. But owing in large part to the influence of his sons, James and Lachlan, the elder Murdoch has come to understand the potential value of small papers in key markets. With his blessing, starting in the summer of last year, Lachlan began to develop and staff what is now an incorporated subsidiary of News Corp. This new addition to the News Corp. family has been given the name N-Corp-Al—the "Al" indicating "alternative"—and as of March 22, it has become the owner and managing body of seven weekly newspapers, scattered from Tacoma, Wash., to Chapel Hill, N.C. Negotiations are under way for the purchase of nine more, including that icon of bohemian culture, The Village Voice.
Among those first seven acquisitions was the Boise Weekly.
"I didn't want to sell. I really didn't. But I had no choice. It was either that, or send everyone home for the last time. I did what I had to do."
—Sally Freeman, owner/publisher of BW for eight years
On March 30, Freeman summoned the entire BW work force to the conference room, which doubles for staff meetings. It was the first thing in the morning, so they listened to what she had to tell them with their coats still on and 20-ounce buckets of Starbucks still steaming in their hands. Within 10 minutes, the meeting was over and they slumped back to their stations, stunned by the news they had not seen coming.
In the end, only Freeman remained.
Of course, what she had to tell them was that Boise Weekly was no more. Even as the paper was being distributed this morning (Wednesday), work crews were changing lettering on the red BW boxes and re-decaling the fleet of BW distribution vans. By the end of the business day on Friday, the Boise Weekly sign over the offices here at 523 Broad St. will be replaced by the new brand name. As of today, the paper will be called the Treasure Valley Weekly Post, with the first edition coming out next Wednesday.
The transaction has required a high level of secrecy for obvious reasons.
• Maintaining confidence among local advertisers:
N-Corp-Al negotiators insisted the transition be seamless and silent so as to assure that the remaining advertising base here in Boise and surrounding communities is not driven off by fear of instability in any aspect of our new product. A retail establishment already in the fight of its life does not want to hear they are cutting checks to a supplier on the verge of insolvency or total collapse.
• Preventing competitive proposals:
We have long had a saying at News Corp. that applies to this venture: "Where Rupert Murdoch goes, the vultures soon follow."
Put another way, News Corp. and N-Corp-Al are not the only parties who might have been interested in acquiring a floundering newspaper at a bargain price. The last thing our board of directors wanted was for another media concern to swoop in at the last moment and make a more attractive offer.
• Maintaining a trouble-free production mode:
No one can predict what employees may do when they learn the company they work for has been sold. While it is true the greatest share of them will behave themselves in hopes of hanging onto their jobs under the new management, it is not unusual to see disgruntled workers and even incidents of "monkey-wrenching" when a newspaper changes hands. When News Corporation acquired the Wall Street Journal in 2007, Mr. Murdoch's replacements found that an inordinate amount of office equipment had been sabotaged, not the least of which were several dozen computer keyboards that had been doused with Super Glue. To prevent such destruction from happening under the new leadership, great pains were taken to keep Boise Weekly staffers in the dark until all the contracts were signed, the deal was complete and arrangements were made with a local security firm to keep close watch for any signs of dissatisfaction or spitefulness.
As per a contractual agreement with Sally Freeman, there will be positions at the TVWP for which Boise Weekly employees may apply. For the time being, the sales and production staffs will stay in place, as long as they adhere to our guidelines of professional and personal conduct. News Corp. has always maintained high expectations from its work force, and N-Corp-Al intends to follow that example.
In regard to the editorial staff, their services as reporters and reviewers will no longer be needed, but they have been offered first call for any openings on the distribution and janitorial teams. Nor will there be any further need for freelance contributors, as any news, sports or business items that need to be assembled locally will be done by professionals who have been coaxed to Boise from other News Corp. holdings.
Listed below is the new newsroom lineup and where they previously worked.
Arts Editor: Candice Applegate, New York Post
Sports Editor: Van Phlimstadt, Australian Golf Digest Magazine
Business Editor: Bernard De Soto, Fox Business Network
Events Calendar Editor: Doris Fleming, The Sunday Telegraph (New South Wales)
It is improbable that local readers are acquainted with my name, but I hope to remedy that situation as quickly as possible. As the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Treasure Valley Weekly Post, I will almost certainly be meeting my new neighbors at various charity functions and civic events.
I bring to my new job more than 22 years of background in every aspect of print journalism, most of which has been spent at News Corp.'s American flagship paper, the New York Post. Living in Idaho will be an exciting change for me and my family, though admittedly somewhat of a challenge. Neither my wife nor I have ever lived in a city without a subway system, and my first order of business upon coming to Boise was to purchase a car.
In the "From the Editor's Desk ..." feature that you can expect from me every week, I intend to explore what life in Boise is like for a son of Brooklyn. My team and I look forward to joining and enhancing your community.
"One of the problems with American newspapers is that the design, the look and the feel lack any sort of vigor. That's a pity."
— Lachlan Murdoch
N-Corp-Al may be a young company, but we have a wealth of experience to draw from in the business. And while it is true that we are newcomers to the alternative newspaper field, we will be managing the TVWP on the same principles, and using the same models, that have proven so successful in other News Corp. products.
Most readers would certainly know what Rupert Murdoch has accomplished with the television news media. But in a remote market such as Boise, it is unlikely that many people have an idea what a Murdoch newspaper looks like. For that reason, I take this opportunity to go through it page by page, describing in general terms what you may expect next Wednesday when the new TVWP hits the streets.
• First and foremost, there will no longer be art work on the cover of the new TVWP. N-Corp-Al appreciates what ex-publisher Sally Freeman was trying to do for the local community of artists by providing them a venue for exposure on the cover page of the old Boise Weekly.
But our operating philosophy concerning any work of art is that if it wouldn't be suitable for retail sale in an RCWilley furniture showroom, then it certainly isn't suitable for Page-One exposure on an N-Corp-Al newspaper.
Instead, what you will see on the cover of the Weekly Post is what we have found solicits the highest level of interest from readers, both old and young—celebrities. If they are caught on camera in humiliating or embarrassing situations, so much the better.
Few people can resist the allure of a full-page mug shot of someone famous. The News Corp. marketing section has tracked this trend extensively, and we have found that 62 percent of all potential readers will pick up a magazine or tabloid-style newspaper for no other reason than because of whose picture is on the front. Furthermore, if that person has been photographed in a bathing suit of any sort, in a state of debilitating intoxication, in a fight (preferably with another celebrity), or in handcuffs, the sale is virtually assured.
For instance, in early March, the New York Post had a full-page shot of Chris Brown at his arraignment, together with an inset photo of his girlfriend, Rihanna, which vividly displayed the damage he had done to her face the night he allegedly beat her up on their way to the Grammy Awards. We could barely keep enough copies on the newsstands, owing to the demand that particular cover generated. What made that edition's success even more remarkable is that a survey showed that only 17 percent of the people buying it knew who Chris Brown or Rihanna were.
• There will no longer be opinions by Ted Rall and Bill Cope. Neither of these gentlemen reflect the attitude or values that have been deemed suitable for N-Corp-Al products.
In their place will be Bill O'Reilly, whose column appears in many News Corp. publications, and for local opinion, we have Kuna writer/raconteur, Tami Smeed. O'Reilly has been a dependable and common sense voice for many years, and Smeed has proven her mettle by questioning Michelle Obama's wardrobe choices long before last year's Iowa caucus. I look forward to working with Ms. Smeed.
• In the TVWP, you may no longer expect to find those negative and demeaning items about Idaho's legislators or governing elite for which Boise Weekly was widely reviled. Though I am new to your town and state, I admire and respect Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter for everything he has done, from his refusal to exclude the sick and handicapped from state budget cuts to his willingness to lead the field in wolf management. As for Idaho's Legislature, all I can say is, New York should be so lucky to have a body of principled lawmakers such as them.
• I have brought with me from the NY Post the finest arts and cultural editor I have ever had the good fortune to work with, Candice "Candy" Applegate. She knows well what people want to know about artists, musicians, filmmakers and the like, and she gives it to them in lively writing and bold print. A splendid sample of her recent work: "Who was that flouncy floozy seen Thursday night in close approximation to Sean Penn at the fading A-list hangout, Mawki's? And why was his secret companion of late, Josh Brolin, putting up with it?"
In time, we have plans to add Boise's noteworthy names to Candy's auto-dial, as soon as we have identified any.
• There will be no more restaurant reviews or coverage of local indie-rock bands. When, and if, any world-class eateries or leading-edge musical acts relocate to Boise, we may reconsider this policy, but that seems a remote possibility.
Also, when Patti LuPone or Hugh Jackman do theater in Boise, we will resume theater coverage.
"I'm damned happy they're gone. We don't need their kind in Idaho. I always called it the Pussy Weakly. Like, W-E-A-K ... get it?"
—Broad Street walker, Larry Redders
• I personally have little patience with political cartoons and the people who draw them, with one notable exception. Bruce Tinsley's creative vision shines through brightly in a field generally filled with disrespectful malcontents and anarchists. For that reason, Tinsley's "Mallard Fillmore" will replace Mike Flinn's work, and all of the other cartoons regular to the Boise Weekly will simply be dropped.
•Also on the chopping block are those drawn-out "feature" articles with which the alternative press is so enamored. News Corp. research has shown beyond question that there is no place in a reader-friendly newspaper for that tired "in-depth" reporting concept. Should this disturb some people, I must ask them: Will you really miss reading a 5,000-word expose on locally grown cauliflower or how using a midwife instead of an obstetrician can save you a few bucks?
• Frankly, we are shocked that the Boise Weekly didn't dedicate more reporting to business news and sports. Had they done so, they might have attracted enough readers to stay in business.
Financial news will play a large part in the TVWP, with Bernie De Voto providing keen insight into what is happening on both Wall Street and Main Street. He also promises a weekly interview with one of your successful business leaders on subjects ranging from how to get the most out of a depression to the wisdom of the "Buy Idaho" campaign.
• Slightly less than one-third of the daily New York Post is given to sports reporting. I have never felt that was enough. Fortunately, the Treasure Valley is home to enough sports organizations that we should be able to fill the back half of every issue with complete team coverage, player profiles, performance analysis and play-by-play descriptions. Expect to learn more about your favorite Bronco, Steelhead, Stampeder or Hawk than you ever hoped to know. Of course, we will also run up-to-the-minute reporting on all the professional sports our News Corp. affiliates cover, including golf and rugby.
I believe you will enjoy the TVWP. Give us a try and let me know what you think. I can be reached at email@example.com.
"I adore the Boise Weekly. I don't know what I'll do without it. The new people will keep the crossword, won't they? Oh gosh, I sure hope so."
—Flying M patron Norma Gayle.
On Monday afternoon, Freeman loaded the last of her personal items into a cardboard box even as I set up pictures of my schnauzers on the desk that had been hers for eight years. She glanced at the 8-by-11 glossy of Rupert Murdoch I always hang over my right shoulder.
"Couldn't you have waited until I was out of here?" she asked.
Before I could answer, Candy Applegate came to the open door. "Al, a story's just come up on Drudge that President Obama has a love child hidden out somewhere in the Bahamas, and that Scarlett Johansson may be the mother. Can I run with it?"
"Next week, Candy. Next week."