Of paper and pen
Take the Post Star for instance. Publisher Rona Rahlf has finally realized the importance of keeping the Spa City in the fold of coverage after nearly two years on the job. But her solution to improving coverage is just as trite and meaningless as the “do more with less” mantra every other news agency has adopted in recent time. This week, the paper unveiled its “Saratoga” addition, which looks much similar to the regular edition, only with its Spa-centric articles shifted into more prominent areas.
After spending a pronounced period of time with just one reporter manning the Saratoga Bureau and after scraping its prominent Broadway office, the Post Star is allegedly reinvigorating efforts to compete with other city media outlets. In a peculiar entry in the paper’s fledgling Saratoga Springs blog, a reporter claims the paper is “ramping up” efforts to cover events transpiring in the city.
However, the stories the reporter lists as evidence of this so-called ramping up are very similar to ones appearing in two of three other papers covering the area; with the third –the Albany Times Union –having little if any interest in covering anything outside of police or political scandal. The other part of the augmented coverage includes efforts by the paper’s other news reporters to incorporate Saratoga angles into their articles. For example, a broad business article might include a quote from a Saratoga Springs shop owner. Bravo.
So nothing has really changed other than a few letters at the top of the masthead and an effort to “zone” the paper, or print multiple editions with the articles rearranged and sometimes omitted according to circulation zones. Even this move is nothing new. For years, the Daily Gazette of Schenectady has printed multiple editions; something that can be utterly flummoxing for any Saratoga County reader that happens to pick up the paper at Stewart’s located the other side of a zone line.
To sum this up: no new news, no additional coverage, just the same reporters reporting the same things; only repackaged so that the more fickle of advertisers will believe boasts of additional coverage. The whole affair smacks of a crackpot scheme dreamed up by the advertising department, something that’s probably not far from the case given Rahlf’s extensive background in ad sales.
What Rahlf can’t seem to figure out is that more coverage in any given region requires more bodies working there. With just two warm bodies in the city, the paper will never get the leg up they need to top the Gazette, which staffs an equal number in Saratoga Springs alone and triple this amount region wide; or to finally vanquish the wayward Saratogian, which maintains its tenuous hold as the “local paper” with its paltry staff of four. Even the Times Union’s staff of three is larger, even though they generally ignore the news minutia most local readers crave.
This is not to disparage the coverage the Post Star’s spa reporters contribute to the mix; they both do a more than adequate job given the task at hand and the budget they’re afforded. And the fact that the paper manages to get its news online in a somewhat cohesive fashion automatically thrusts it well beyond the Saratogian.
More than three months after launching its redesigned Web site, the Saratogian still hasn’t been able to pull things together. Real-time online updates are sporadic at best, the site remains slow as molasses and top stories often slip into anonymity, thanks to the ludicrous manner in which news is posted to the site, especially when the Web editor is not working.
Amazingly, editors at the Saratogian and the corporate heads with the Journal Register Company don’t seem too interested in lifting their site out from the fetid gutter of Web journalism. Instead, it’s the same old “we’ll get to it eventually” philosophy that has kept the paper locked beneath mediocrity for decades.
In summation, it’s the same old song and dance for these papers. Despite clear and definitive methods to improve their quality, they continue to sniff out circulation answers where the sun don’t shine. And if they don’t start looking elsewhere soon, it’s going to take an even-keeled surgeon to extract a fair amount of rectally embedded heads.