Tribune changes, part two

There’s still plenty of buzz around town about the Trib’s recent changes – and no one seems to be buying the valiant effort at a rosy picture that publisher Steve Clark’s trying to spin around town.

PDX Media Watcher wonders how increased sales and revenue translates into layoffs and restructuring. And b!X asks this question (in a post titled ‘Tribune’ Spins Itself Off Its Axis) – Is it time to start the Portland Tribune dead pool yet? – and wonders aloud:

If the paper folds, are we just plain short on outlet, or is there someone out there waiting in the wings to fill a potential void?

And that’s the key question – what void does the Trib think it needs to fill? Clark’s letter repeats this key phrase – ‘local relevancy’- while touting efforts like Weekend Life and Trib Town as examples of efforts that accomplish that goal.

While focusing on local relevancy is a noble goal (especially in contrast to The O’s reliance on three-day old wire stories to fill their A section, for example), I have to question some of the vehicles they’ve chosen to accomplish that mission – I wonder at the long-term vision that suggests banking on an expanded Weekend Life is the way to establish that local relevancy, for example.

First, though – let me throw the Trib props for one new advertising initiative – the Accelerate section, specifically the addition of local racing enthusiast Jeff Zurschmeide’s column, Start Your Engines as the bait. Jeff covers the popular local racing scene (given short shrift in most of the other outlets around town), and provides that local hook into a package that you might just consider next time you’re looking for your next set of wheels.

But Weekend Life? Where’s the void for lifestyle and entertainment coverage here in PDX, anyway? A&E’s going strong, while WWeek and The Merc provide exhaustive coverage for their perceived overlapping audiences. And while the Trib’s entertainment coverage is intermittently snappy (Audrey Van Buskirk’s a welcome addition) – do we really need it in a universe that also includes online resources such as Portland Food, PDX Food Dude or the PORT arts blog? Or, for that matter, the hosts of people all too willing to share their personal experiences with the burgers at Higgins, the shows at Dantes, or a don’t-miss experience downtown on blogs like this one?

Yeah, yeah, yeah – many of you reading this now (looking for yet more dirt on the Trib) think I’m overly optimistic or much too partisan. But 10 years ago, newspaper publishers also scoffed at the notion that online classified services would ever steal away their loyal readership, just as booksellers scoffed at Jeff Bezos and Amazon. And the man who has them quaking in their boots now? Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist – who I now think of as the Classified Killer (and industry analysts concur).

I’m all for the Trib’s goal of making itself ‘locally relevant.’ But there are already too many seats filled at the arts & entertainment table for Weekend Life to squeeze in on the corner – especially as advertisers continue to discover that there’s a whole buffet of options out there for them.

Is there a place for The Tribune here in Portland?
If so – why? If not – why not?

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