Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2008 | What would happen if a successful publisher suddenly came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter what stories he ran in his free weekly newspaper? Most of the people who picked up his publication skipped the stories and scanned the free classifieds, the entertainment listings and the display ads. So Mr. Successful Publisher convinces himself that the editorial content doesn’t really matter.
Whether the newspaper won awards doesn’t matter. Only journalists care about awards. It’s seen as irrelevant, out-of-touch, even unreadable? Big deal. It still makes money.
If a publisher were to show such contempt for his readers, the final product might look a lot like the San Diego Reader. Editor and owner Jim Holman doesn’t seem to care about whether anyone actually reads the weekly newspaper he’s been publishing in San Diego for 35 years. Week after week, I pick up the Reader hoping to find something worth reading over a cup of coffee only to fling aside moments later in disappointment.
The Dec. 20 issue that I grabbed while writing this story is typical. The cover asks “Does Christmas offend you?” The answer, if you can call it that, is a verbatim argument between a Christian and a Jew that goes on for (I counted) 7,173 words.
(The Reader is often asking these sorts of nonstarters on the cover: Why Tijuana? Is everybody too tired? What’s that smell? Is the sun in your eyes or are you just avoiding me?) The writer of the previous week’s cover story stopped people on the street and asked them about what they were wearing. Other cover stories are lists of things: best all-time concerts, recent murders, highest-paid executives. If that isn’t phoning it in, I don’t know what is.
Local news is the territory of the City Lights section, which features the “Breaking News” column by veteran Matt Potter, who is living proof that you can have a journalism career without actually talking to anyone or leaving the office. All you need to do is shell out 25 bucks for tipsters willing to do your work for you. If that fails, search the Internet for campaign contribution reports and documents filed by politicians, and bango! you have a column