No early line on who’ll win Indy vs. G battle royal

Filed under: Hazlehurst,Opinion | Tags:, ,

It’ll be interesting to watch the forthcoming dustup between The Independent and The Gazette’s new four-day-a-week free publication, which will distribute 10,000 copies of each issue in the city’s core areas.

Somewhat to its embarrassment, The Gazette has had to abandon its original name, “Ink” (turns out that name’s taken), and replaced it with FreshInk. One Gazette staffer (who shall be mercifully nameless) suggested “FreeG,” a name that would have been sure to morph into derisive, unlovable variations – try “SqueeGee.”

But whatever it ends up being called, it might present a real threat to The Independent.

When first created 16 years ago, the Indy was a scrappy, combative publication which quickly became a player in the city. Moderates and liberals finally had a platform, an advocate and a news source other than the G.

Thanks in large part to The Independent, local voters passed the TOPs tax during 1997, setting aside a one-tenth of a cent sales tax to pay for parks, trails and open space. Because of the funding stream guaranteed by TOPs, thousands of acres of open space have been preserved in perpetuity, including one of the city’s crown jewels, Red Rocks canyon.

But the Indy aged, as did its readers.

The cool youngish readers of 1993 became the graying boomers of 2009, settling reluctantly into middle age. The once-radical alternative weekly became the staid, ad-packed “Liberal Shopper.”

The Indy has tried to remain cool and relevant, with mixed success.

Sometimes it seems fresh and new, but sometimes … well, imagine a 50-something guy at the bar gazing wistfully at the young hotties who don’t even notice that he’s there. Believe me, I know all about that particular form of irrelevance.

Like The Gazette, The Independent is owned, operated and controlled by middle-aged men and women, most of them print lifers. Collectively, Editor Ralph Routon, columnist Rich Tosches, and owner-Publisher John Weiss have spent 80 years in the newspaper business.

Judging by ad count, The Independent’s doing well, even during the recession. Theirs has been a product without serious competition, serving a submarket that The Gazette has historically ignored.

That’s about to change.

In common with metro dailies everywhere, the G can no longer afford to ignore any opportunity to generate revenue, particularly when the marginal cost of launching a new specialty pub is so low.

Consider: The Gazette already has printing presses, a sales force, designers, reporters and editors. It already does the Indy’s home delivery (good thinking, John Weiss). It has all the skills and all the tools to beat The Independent at its own game.

But the G will have to create a quality product that advertisers will support, and that readers will want to pick up every day. The new paper will be available at more than 400 racks throughout downtown, the west side and Manitou Springs, and will be published Wednesday through Saturday.

Last week, the G’s sales force began an all-out sales blitz, with the goal of visiting every business in the new pub’s target area.

So what will the Indy do? Does the paper have the resources to compete vigorously and viciously, to drop ad rates, do lots of special promotions and expand local coverage?

Or will it just keep on truckin’ and assume that the folks at the G are sclerotic incompetents, sleepy right-wing know-nothings who could never persuade the loyal readers of the Indy to give up their alt-weekly habit?

We’ll see – but a newspaper war??!! Ain’t it grand??!! Where’s Damon Runyon, Ben Hecht, and Charles MacArthur – not to mention Hildy Johnson?

Meanwhile, it’s amazing to watch the GOPsters, locally and nationally, (tea) party as if it were 1980 – and they were Democrats.

Remember? The economy was in disarray, interest rates were soaring, unemployment was on the rise, Iran held nearly one hundred American hostages, and the voters had just tossed out an incumbent southerner and installed Ronald Reagan in the presidency.

The Dems couldn’t believe it. They went into full anti-Reagan mode, as in: “He’s an idiot!” “He’s against everything you value!” “He’ll take away all of your hard-won gains!” “The economy will collapse!”

And so on, with minor variations, for the next eight years.

The Dems didn’t realize that the voters liked and respected Reagan, and were more than willing to cut him some slack as he sought to change government for the better.

Thirty years later, there’s another charismatic change agent in the White House. Like Reagan, he has his plate full – and like Reagan, he’s not afraid to tackle big problems, to embrace unconventional solutions and to act on belief, not polls.

We want President Barack Obama to succeed, because to wish him ill is to hope that the stock market falls, that inflation resumes, that the housing market craters, that the domestic auto industry disappears and that more of us lose our jobs.

At the moment, that’s the de facto Republican platform, and it’ll work just as well as it did 30 years ago.

Just ask Walter Mondale.

John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.