One of the biggest topics of discussion outside of the local issues in the last few weeks has been the decision by the Davis Enterprise to go to a three-day delivery schedule. For the most part, the Vanguard has tried to stay away from that issue – I firmly believe we play a vital role in the community that is very different from the role the Enterprise fills.
The Vanguard is really not a competitor to the Enterprise, it’s a complement. We cover a narrower range of topics and focus on detailed analysis and drilling down beneath the headlines. We see our role not only as an educator but a facilitator of community conversations and discussion, both on the web and in the community itself through forums.
But we are not a daily newspaper. We’re not going to cover sports and community events, have classified ads, etc.
Starting on January 4, the Enterprise is planning print editions to be delivered Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. It makes some sense, the Sunday paper is probably the most read and, I don’t know if this is intentional, but Wednesday and Friday follow the most followed public meetings – city council and school board.
I have been told that they will have some major changes to their website. They are planning to post the news 24/7 on the website. They are planning to have Tuesday and Thursday installments of Bob Dunning’s column.
To be honest, I am more than a little skeptical that this can work. I remember when they stopped having a print newspaper on Mondays and they said the same thing, that they would continue to cover the news 24/7. But the reality is that, other than major breaking news, the newspaper effectively stopped publishing Monday articles.
They are going to run into the same problem here. Think about it this way – unless there is a major new breaking story, the Vanguard knows that it has often half the readership on the weekends as it does during the week. So unless the issue is pressing, we are going to save our big, hard-hitting stories for the week. That is why we mainly have commentary on weekends.
The Enterprise is going to want to pump out its big stories during the days when it has the biggest audience, and that is going to be the print audience.
Second, obviously I don’t know what kinds of changes they plan to have in the paper, but I think moving away from print is a mistake. The Vanguard’s audience has always been limited to people who are (a) interested in community news, but also (b) familiar with the web. I don’t know what the demographics of the Enterprise audience is, but I would imagine a good portion of those readers are not people who primarily get their news on the web.
I see a huge shift in the 30-year gap between my parents and myself. My parents get two newspapers delivered to their door and watch the news on TV on a nightly basis. I don’t subscribe to any newspapers and I barely watch the news on TV at all. I’d say almost never, except perhaps in the last few months of the presidential election. Even then, I get almost all of my news from the web.
Now, perhaps the Enterprise sees the future of the news as online, but I think in order to go online, you have to fundamentally change how you report.
Finally, I think the Enterprise is selling themselves short. Look, I’m a critic of their news coverage. I think the coverage is too thin on key issues and biased on others. I certainly disagree with Bob Dunning and generally disagree with the editorial bent of the paper, but that’s not really important in the scheme of things.
I think if the Enterprise had come to the community and laid out their model, laid out their revenue picture, the community would have stepped up to keep the paper at least a five-day print publication. We will never know for sure and we have no idea what their numbers look like, but I think a large percentage of people would be willing to pay much more per month to make sure the paper stays alive.
And I hope people are willing to pay $10 a month to make sure the Vanguard keeps going as well. We will have to wait and see how this plays out, but I worry that the Enterprise is taking a huge gamble with the vitality of our community.
—David M. Greenwald reporting