Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Busy busy busy business

Funny that after talking about the fragmented decade I become a person in charge of selecting moments of the new decade for prosperity. (I still believe that paper will outlast electronics longer, if not better. Of course, it doesn't hurt to back up paper with electronic copies.)

Putting together an arts/culture/lifestyle section greatly depends on what its goals are. Even though the World Wide Web is supposed to be the great equalizer when it comes to distribution, this is clearly not the case. Every search engine ranks its results, and some, like Google, determine these rankings based on how much money is paid for one's own place. Also, it helps to know who your audiences are and how your content is distributed to them.

With that in mind, I've been trying to make the Arizona Daily Wildcat arts section focused primarily on local events with some connections to national and international events and news. The main impetus for this is that the vast majority of the Wildcat print readers are UA students, faculty, and staff. The rest of the print readers are members of the Tucson community. Most online readers, it seems, are alumni and a few students who didn't pick up a copy of the paper. (The fact that the Wildcat now posts PDF versions of each edition to Issu.com is great. Visitors can see the design layout of each page.) Given that our ad revenue still comes primarily from print ads, it is a background concern for an editor, unfortunately.

As I understand the responsibilities of the advertising department, they sell print and online space to businesses and individuals based on the content of the section and the section's reader demographics. If the advertisers and the sellers know what the section is about and who the readers should be, then they can determine what ads would be most appropriate for the section. With the amount of money going into print advertising decreasing across the publishing industry (of course, there are some notable exceptions), it can be difficult to keep this in mind.

However, due to the various megamergers of the past 30 years and the subsequent formation of monolithic, international conglomerates, publications that used to be fed from different tables by different chefs are now seated at the same table and eat from the same menu. (Don't know if this metaphor works...) The employees at the different companies are often painfully aware that they are competing with people who are essentially coworkers.

Given the importance of advertising and editorial content, some newspapers have taken a proactive approach to what appears in their paper, even when it comes to ads. This is nothing new to many magazines, though, especially since they are aimed at niches with easily identifiable readers. (I'm thinking of Utne Reader, Mother Jones, National Review, GQ, etc.) But they do this in order to align their ads with their content. This isn't to say that they are colluding to bring in ads, but that the newsroom ensures that their values aren't in conflict with their advertising department's goals. Anyone involved in the media nowadays, even at the college level, needs to know what their business is up to in order to survive.

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