The Gazette has abandoned its ambitious plans to publish its FreshInk as a four-day per week free tabloid newspaper and instead has relegated it to a once-a-week insert.
FreshInk, launched during April of this year, was the brainchild of Gazette publisher Steve Pope, who reportedly told his staff at the time that FreshInk was intended to both compete with the Colorado Springs Independent for younger readers and to eventually become a zoned publication available throughout the region.
At the time, some speculated that Pope had created FreshInk specifically as an Independent-killer, in revenge for that paper’s revelations concerning his fudged resume when he first joined the Gazette.
But I don’t think that was ever the plan – the Gazette, like many floundering dailies, was struggling with the recession and with a swiftly changing business environment.
The Gazette’s parent, now-bankrupt Freedom Communications, had tried the same strategy with its publication in Mesa, Arizona, the East Valley Tribune. The strategy didn’t work, and Freedom announced plans to close the paper unless a buyer could be found. Apparently, there’s a buyer in the wings, and freedom has deferred plans for shutting the pub down pending the bankruptcy court’s approval of the proposed deal.
When launched, FreshInk was published with racked distribution throughout Manitou, the west side, and downtown Colorado Springs. During July, a zoned edition of the paper began distribution in Fountain.
But, it appeared that few businesses chose to advertise in FreshInk.
The paper had formidable competitors, including the Independent and the West Side Pioneer, Ken Jordan’s feisty neighborhood weekly, which routinely scoops every other news medium in the city.
During the last two months, FreshInkhad shrunk from 16 pages to 12, and most ads were so-called ‘house ads’, for which little or no compensation was received. And two weeks ago, the paper announced that it would henceforth be available three days weekly, rather than four.
In a curiously-worded announcement in the Gazette yesterday morning, FreshInk editor Tim Bergsten announced that “changes are coming to the Gazette’s citizen journalism platform…it’s natural to shy away from change, to assume that it’s going to be bad.”
“Beginning Jan. 6,” Bergsten continued, “FreshInk will print Wednesdays. On Feb. 3 we’ll launch two more neighborhood papers (serving the Powers Boulevard and Briargate areas). All four neighborhood papers will be delivered in the Gazette to home subscribers.”
In retrospect, it’s easy to say that FreshInk was doomed from day one, a bad idea that somehow implanted itself in the mind of a stubborn boss.
Maybe so – but it takes a certain amount of journalistic chutzpah to launch a print pub of any kind in today’s market, and FreshInk was often interesting and readable. Many observers believe that metro dailies are a dying breed, doomed to follow passenger pigeons and passenger trains into extinction – so I applaud the Gazette for at least trying something, rather than passively accepting what fate may bring.
“Stand by,” Liz Cobb, the Gazette’s Vice President of Marketing said, “More changes are coming.”
And change, if inevitable, is not always good.
When ‘The City of New Orleans’ immortalized passenger rail 40 years ago, Colorado Springs had two competing dailies, as did Denver, as did San Francisco, as did Seattle. America’s network of passenger trains had largely disappeared, leaving only a few faded reminders of a glorious past. Trains were made for songwriters – and newspapers are made by writers.
I suspect that dozens of laid-off journalists are banging away at their keyboards as I write this, hoping to write the book that will define and celebrate the end of journalism as we knew and lived it.
Good luck. And I know you’ve given up on fortune – but don’t expect fame either. Here’s the chorus from ‘The City of New Orleans’, which was written not by Arlo Guthrie, not by Willie Nelson…but by Steve Goodman.
“Nighttime on The City of New Orleans,
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee.
Half way home, we’ll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness
Rolling down to the sea.
And all the towns and people seem
To fade into a bad dream
And the steel rails still ain’t heard the news.
The conductor sings his song again,
The passengers will please refrain
This train’s got the disappearing railroad blues.”