Oct 15, 2009

The national battle for local supremacy*

The Bay Area edition of the New York Times launches tomorrow. The edition consists of a few pages of content focused on San Francisco, Silicon Valley and the East Bay which will, initially, be written by the Times's 10-person Bay Area news bureau. In the long run, the paper will pick up stories from other news outlets.

From the press release:

A longer-term objective of this initiative is to work with local journalists and news organizations in a collaborative way, first in the Bay Area and then in other major markets around the country. The Times is in discussions with news organizations in the Bay Area about supplying journalism for these pages.

Zachary Seward at Nieman Journalism Lab says the Bay Area edition is the latest salvo in a quiet war between the Times and the Wall Street Journal to be the national newspaper of choice in affluent markets. Seward also points to a 2005 study shows local papers usually get more local and blue collar when the Times moves in:
It’s also worth considering how an insurgence of national newspapers affects their local counterparts. A fascinating study in 2005 found that when The New York Times increased its penetration in a market, college-educated readers abandoned their local newspapers. But at the same time, local newspapers upped their focus on local news and, at least back then, increased their circulation among readers without a college degree. That dynamic isn’t limited to print, but it’s certainly the battle being fought on my stoop.
I remember a readership study done in the city of Claremont when there were three papers covering the city that bears this out. It was 1998 or 1999 and I worked at the twice-weekly Claremont Courier, which the study showed had its highest penetration among college-educated readers - a good demographic to target in a town with five colleges. The Los Angeles Times was moving in aggressively with its own locally produced edition that wrapped around the main paper. The study showed it appealed to the same readers. I suspect many, if not most of the Courier readers subscribed to both. The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, owned by Dean Singleton's MediaNews, was bigger in the non-college educated, blue-collar areas of the city.

But, as Seward points out, local papers aren't investing and competing like they did only a few years ago. The Times closed its local bureaus. The Bulletin is a shell of its former self. The Courier continues to chug along, although it struggles to maintain its focus now that longtime publisher Martin Weinberger is out of the picture.

*Update: Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub will write for Times' Bay Area edition, LA Observed reports. He's also starting a nonprofit website to cover health care news.

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