Jeff Light Interview, Union-Tribune’s Golden Years, Fire Coverage, Does Anybody Watch Local TV News?, Sports-Talk Radio

A Gratifying Information Experience

A banner hangs in the lobby of the San Diego Union-Tribune, displaying a letter from publisher Ed Moss to “our readers.” It reads, in part: “After months of polling thousands of you, coupled with internal planning…we are preparing to unveil a new Union-Tribune on August 17. We think you’re going to like what you see.” The new paper, writes Moss, will be “more enjoyable to read…making better use of photos and graphics to tell stories.”

Besides a shift in content presentation — real-time web posts leading to short, daily page-two items leading to longer, weekly page-one features — the new U-T also took on a new look. The redesign was the work of managing editor/creative director Kris Viesselman, who also happens to be president of the Society for News Design. For the new header, which stresses the paper’s (smart-phone friendly) “U-T” shorthand, Viesselman turned to noted type designer Jim Parkinson, the man behind the logos for Rolling Stone, Esquire, and the Wall Street Journal. (The Journal has also gone shorthand, featuring the WSJ logo on its own page one.)

“At first, there were hundreds of negative comments,” recalls Union-Tribune editor Jeff Light. “But people who had been through these things before said, ‘Oh, no, this was much less resistance than we see to change, in general.’”

“It’s a little bit of a Starbucks theory,” says Light of the print-side redesign. “The news you find in a newspaper, you’ll find it somewhere else” — say, on the paper’s website. “So what’s the real value of getting a newspaper? It’s the whole immersive experience of ‘thoughtful, insightful, well-presented.’ It should be a gratifying information experience. You sit down with it. You see big illustrations and graphics in the feature sections because that’s what you can do in print. The web is data, instant news, telling you what’s going on right now. Print is about presentation, stepping back to give context and meaning. Graphics are part of that — they’re inherently analytical. You create a little bit of an inexpensive luxury product” — like Starbucks coffee.

“Starbucks took something that was a commodity — low cost, available everywhere. They turned it into an inexpensive daily luxury and charged a premium for it. They made the coffee really strong, brought in the Z Gallerie couches. People liked it — it was a little treat, a special moment in their day.… It’s a bit of a departure, but I think print newspapers need to occupy that niche. Print today is about refinement of a product for that particular audience.” — Matthew Lickona

The Union-Tribune’s Golden Years

The September 27 edition of the U-T featured 4 ads for erectile dysfunction treatment (out of 47 total). Also, 3 for strip clubs — and yes, one of those ED ads was right next to them. Just 40 to go! Of course, the U-T is a big fan of advertising in the U-T: 8 ads touted some aspect of the paper or its website, if you include the squib for “U-T news partner 10News” on “How the Sheriff Cut Millions From Overtime While Reducing Crime.”

My favorite U-T ad in the U-T was for the Union-Tribune Successful Aging Expo at the Town & Country Resort & Convention Center on Saturday, February 19, 2011. “Attention Business Owners! If you want to reach active adults over 40, you need to be here.” You betcha. Because the U-T knows from old people. I don’t say that just because of the grinning old guy in the ED ad. There’s plenty of corroborating evidence.

Page A5: Full-page ad for the Hearing Aid Store.

Page A6: Quarter-page ad for dental implants. Quarter-page ad for SAS comfort shoes (product names: Free Time, Siesta, Time Out, Relaxed). Quarter-page ad for Arthritis Expo at Paradise Village, “Resort-Style Senior and Assisted Living Community.”

Page A8: Three-quarter-page ad for San Diego Spine and Disc.

Page A10: Another, smaller ad for the Arthritis Expo.

Page A10: Small ad for hearing-loss study.

Page A11–12: Two-page ad for new diabetes medication. Okay, maybe that one’s not fair.

Page A13: Small ad for dental implants.

Only one ad for mortuary services.

On the bright side: according to transgenerational.org, “America’s elderly population is expected to reach 72 million by 2030, more than double the number in 2000. Tomorrow’s elder population…will demand products that offer continued enjoyment and stimulation while, at the same time, supporting functional limitations and maintaining independence.” — Ambrose Martin

Fire Coverage Was Always Two Hours Late

When Ramona’s Bret Stateham inaugurated his blog San Diego County Fire Information Resources on August 25, he wrote, “I built this list because we just had a small fire here in our area and it brought back for me much of the stress I felt with the 2003 Cedar fire and the 2007 Witch Creek fire.”

Stateham’s blog (blogs.netconnex.com/2010/08/san-diego-county-fire-information.html) has grown to six pages and dozens of links. Stateham states that he started posting the links for “pretty selfish reasons,” saying, “I got nervous when the fires came right up to my fence line. And it seemed like the [traditional news media] was always two hours late. So I designed it for the way I’d want to use it. If other folks find it helpful — fantastic.”

On September 27, I checked the 92131 weather readings taken at Miramar Reservoir, about a mile from my home in Scripps Ranch. According to the Weather Underground website, at 11:52 a.m., it was 112.2 degrees with 16 percent humidity. Winds were holding steady from the north at 8 miles per hour, but easterly gusts of up to 25 were said to be imminent. Was a fire on tap?

Consulting Bret’s blog, I started with a live audio feed from the Monte Vista Ranger Unit in Ramona. Nothing doing there. Next, I checked out the Cal Fire San Diego Twitter feed, which reported that a small fire near the Mexico border had been contained earlier in the day. On the “All San Diego County Emergency Services Radio Scanner,” I heard something about a “possible bomb device” at Steele Canyon High School, but so far, no fires in the county. Just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, I then turned to unmanned cameras set up by UCSD researchers around the backcountry. Peering at live shots taken from hilltop crags near Ramona, I looked for signs of nascent disaster but found only boulders, brush, and blue sky. No smoke — at least not yet. — Moss Gropen

Does Anybody Watch Local TV News?

Neighborhood: Downtown

Street Corner: Sixth Avenue and B Street

Number of People Surveyed: 53

Favorite Local News Channel:

5/69 Fox — 3 votes

7/39 NBC — 4 votes

8 CBS — 7 votes

9/51 KUSI — 6 votes

10 ABC — 4 votes

“I don’t watch local news.”— 29 votes

Highest standards: “I don’t watch the local channels. I think it’s all just filler-type news.”

Most self-deprecating: “I’m terrible. I don’t watch any news.”

Least decisive: “I watch 8 in the evening, 9 at night, and 7 in the morning. I never watch 10, though. I don’t know why.”

Neighborhood: Pacific Beach

Street Corner: Mission Boulevard and Grand Avenue

Number of People Surveyed: 35

Favorite Local News Channel:

5/69 Fox — 2 votes

7/39 NBC — 1 vote

8 CBS — 6 votes

9/51 KUSI — 1 vote

10 ABC — 3 votes

“I don’t watch local news.” — 10 votes

“I don’t watch your local news because I’m not from here.” — 12 votes

Most honest: “I haven’t watched the news in, like, three years.”

Most specific: “I can only watch the KUUUUUUUUSI weather guy [John Coleman] every so often.”

Biggest cheater: Man: “I watch Channel 8.”

Woman: “He works for Channel 8. He’s cheating.”

Neighborhood: Mission Valley

Street Corner: Fashion Valley mall

Number of People Surveyed: 47

Favorite Local News Channel:

5/69 Fox — 2 votes

7/39 NBC — 1 vote

8 CBS — 6 votes

9/51 KUSI — 2 votes

10 ABC — 1 vote

“I don’t watch local news.” — 25 votes

“I don’t watch your local news because I’m not from

here.” — 10 votes

Most patriotic: “We’re journalists for the Marine Corps, so we get enough of the news. We don’t watch it on TV.”

Most disturbed: “I watch the national news because the local news reports too much violence in this area. It’s disturbing.”

Most concerned: “I don’t watch the news, but I hope they’re paying you a lot to stand around in this heat.” — Elizabeth Salaam

The Delivery of Men Is Huge

On September 13, San Diego’s Broadcast Company of the Americas replaced chief executive officer John Lynch with Larry Patrick, a Maryland-based media investment banker and broker. Lynch founded the company in 2003, launching the Mighty 1090, now XX Sports Radio, a sports-talk station and the radio broadcaster for the San Diego Padres. The move returned sports talk to the local market shortly after XTRA Sports took its sports-talk format to Los Angeles. It was XTRA 690, under Lynch’s leadership from 1985 to 1996, that first put local personalities Hacksaw Hamilton, Chet Forte, Steve Hartman, and Jim Rome onto San Diego’s airwaves. Forte, who was the first director of ABC’s Monday Night Football, died in 1996. Rome and Hartman have become national television sports journalists.

Broadcast Company of the Americas also operates in San Diego a news-talk station and five music stations, including 91X FM and FM 105.7, “the Walrus.” Radio-industry watchers say that the company’s leadership change resulted from declining advertising revenues in 2009 and was dictated by two major investors, the Viejas tribe and JMI, John Moores’s investment firm.

Larry Patrick, the company’s new chief executive, also heads the media brokerage house Patrick Communications in Elkridge, Maryland, and he’s part-owner of 14 radio stations in three states. I spoke with him by phone two days after his appointment in San Diego. As we discussed the prospects of the new assignment, sports-talk radio dominated the conversation.

“When you look at formats across the United States,” said Patrick, “and when you compare the share of listening to the share of revenue, FM news talk and FM sports talk are the highest-converting formats in the United States. In other words, if I happen to get 5 percent of listening…I might easily get 8 or 9 percent, in some cases even 10 percent, of the revenues in the market. The first station that did sports talk, WFAN in New York, is never rated better than about 15th to 20th in ratings, yet it’s always one of the top 2 or 3 stations in revenue. It may not have as big an audience as a music station, but the advertisers are enormously loyal, and the delivery of men, particularly ages 25 to 54, is huge.”

Patrick does not plan to move his family to San Diego but anticipates spending three or four days here during most weeks over the next three months. — Joe Deegan

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