Distributing relationships

One reader wasn’t so thrilled with the Ikea catalog in the DMN:

Your second graph "This morning’s DMN came in a bag touting the new
Ikea store in Frisco….." aptly describes what is taking place in the
Circulation process of the newspaper industry. When Editorial was in
charge of the newspaper the graph would have read "A catalog touting
the new Ikea store came with the DMN….".

The newspaper is no longer the driving source of what is being
distributed but simply a tool to load as much advertising as possible
into the container circumventing postal rates, ABC rules etc. The DMN
even hides behind the cloak of First Amendment Rights regarding the
right to distribute news
masquerading their "Third Party newspaper distribution.

Stuff a newspaper in a bag with any catalog, potato chip bag, chewing
gum, or door hanger and you have an instant cheap delivery service.

And, we can’t let Editorial off the hook so easily either. Tuesday’s
Business section of the DMN has almost two full pages of fluff re: the
new Ikea store in Frisco. This was preceded by Monday’s front page
story. Does all this "ink" have anything to do with the contract the
DMN had to deliver over 330,000 of these catalogs this past Sunday?
A paid "escort" is still a whore. As long as newspapers continue to
pimp themselves out to whoever offers the highest dollar, they risk
their further decline. And they wonder why they are losing circulation?

Since the DMN won’t listen, I suggest people contact the advertisers and complain when they receive this unsolicited material.

Enjoy your catalog but remember the expense (not $$, but integrity) that  it took to get it into your hands.

No one’s ever accused me of being an apologist for the daily newspaper industry, but I think our friend is throwing the wrong rocks here, and along the way illustrating our business concepts.

First of all, Editorial never ran the newspaper. Ever. As much as we want to enable old-school beat coverage like in the old days, I’ve got no illusion that those days were some sort of editorial Camelot. April is fond of reminding me of all the old movies where the reporter is quashed by the publisher kowtowing to the big advertiser. Tale old as time. Even the good guys worried about the store having a big sale than the capture of the itenerant bank robber.

Now I believe in the church-state separation more fervently than most, as I’m confident any reporter or editor who has ever worked with me will attest. But, I’ll argue that part of the reason we worry so much about these issues in our industry in the first place is because of the wrong definition of news. We act as though news is "what should be important to you" instead of "what is important to you." Does Ikea deserve to be the front page story in the paper? Probably not. But to many people, it is bigger news than a triple homicide on the other side of town or the latest city council imbroglio.

April spent more time with that Ikea catalog than she’s spent with a Sunday paper in five years. It was news to her. And I don’t entertain any illusion that the story would have been different in the halcyon days of newspaper competition.

I have no idea whether there was a quid pro quo on editorial coverage here, although I doubt it. Ikea is news. I’ll agree that in a short print business section, two pages more than a week out from the grand opening seems like overkill. But online, with nearly infinite space, why the hell not? If there’s a passionate user who wants to create an Ikea mini-site inside our walls, why shouldn’t they? It’s our job to make sure they’re not hiding the fact that they’re on the Ikea payroll by doing so, but that’s something of use to many of our users, whether or not Ikea pays us a dime.

And that’s where our reader helped me see that the inability to deliver that catalog to our readers isn’t quite the liability I thought. Because the Ikea catalog came buried amongst lots of flyers for groceries and refigerators and other things we didn’t care to read about.

In the end, (as usual) Jarvis was right. It’s not about distribution. It’s about the relationship we can create with our community by separating the wheat from the chaff on an individual level. Your insightful investigative report is my Ikea store opening. And that’s OK.

Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer of The Dallas Morning News; President of Belo Business Intelligence; husband to Crystal Orren; and a Mungarian at Munger Place Church in Dallas, TX. All opinions herein are mine alone.