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Rethinking the Mercury News: A status report

November 6, 2007 | Author: mattmansfield | Filed under: Online, Social Networking, Milestones

Rethink slide

By Chris O’Brien
+ Matt Mansfield

VERSION 1.0 ~ November 2007

Over the past three months, teams of Mercury News employees from all divisions, working in groups of three, have talked to more than 120 media users across Silicon Valley in a process aimed at getting us some quick feedback. Summaries of these reports were presented over the course of four staff meetings. And there has been a follow-up staff discussion about how to re-imagine our print product.

The steering committee began meeting simultaneously to start focusing those discussions and ideas, with an eye toward turning them into concrete products and strategies. This memo will update you on where all of this had taken the committee so far. And where we believe we must go next.


Our big thought: We have a unique position in the community and we should use it to help facilitate conversation.

One of the things that’s making for explosive online growth right now is the fact that communities are forming around popular social platforms (think Yahoo, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter – the list goes on and on). These places are all about conversation and content. And sharing.

Conversation about content leads to relationships. Those relationships then lead to affinity, as many smart people have noticed. We want the Mercury News to be the place where people come to get information about Silicon Valley, talk about their lives, and connect with other people.

In both print and online, we want to move away from broadcasting news to people and find better ways to inform them and make them participants so that the Mercury News becomes the meeting point of the larger conversation the community is having about itself. Think of it as Silicon Valley’s front porch.

Providing information, facilitating this conversation, and being the hub of this community should be our goals, the things that guide both our journalism and our business.

Mention these concepts to people in the newsroom now, they’ll often claim that we do this thing, or offer that feature. We have comments. We have blogs. We have multimedia. People can upload photos and videos. But fundamentally, we’ve failed to become the gathering place for our community. We have not learned how to do these things as part of dialogue.

Beyond this big thought, several other broad themes have emerged from this process …

  1. Choice: People get their news and information in a variety of formats and places. In print, we offer them one option. Online, we offer them a version of that product, but one that’s not especially dynamic yet.
  2. Convenience: People say they are busier than ever, too busy to consume the newspaper. But in fact, they find time throughout their day to get news and information: In their car, picking up newspapers left in a coffee shop, talking to friends, surfing the Internet (usually through Google). We believe the age-old argument of too little time does not work because people find time for things they find important — and, unfortunately, for more and more people we are less and less important than the other things that fill their time.
  3. Networks: People told us that one of their most important sources of information was other people. And while they have networks, they are interested in expanding them or creating others with folks who share their interests or needs or will help them accomplish certain tasks. We believe there is opportunity here.
  4. Personality: The Merc has none. Or at least it’s not one that’s immediately apparent. We repeatedly heard that people felt the writing and storytelling was flat, monotonous. They wanted some more lively pieces, with more flair. Our writing needs to reflect the personality of our community. Our presentation and packaging needs to show that we live in this amazingly innovative place.
  5. Innovation: Our technology tools and our online presence in particular are considered dated, both by the casual consumers of media we talked to and inside Silicon Valley’s tech elite. Changing the perception that we’re behind the times is a major hurdle we must get across.

On a more specific level, we heard several things …

    • International news: There was a widespread desire for more international news. People are now often going directly to foreign news organizations’ sites to get it. We began seeking ways we could help build conversation around the global scope of life here without feeling the need to deal in commodity news that people can get anywhere.
    • More business and technology: Not surprising. But this breaks down in two ways. There are folks who are working in the industry who are constantly searching for information and people that relate to their business. And then there are users, both geeks and casual users who don’t define themselves but still carry around multiple gadgets.
    • Better navigation: Our Web site is too cluttered and confusing. While it may be packed with interesting content or features, people are often unaware of these things or can’t find them even if they know they’re there somewhere. People we talked to found it unhelpful.
    • News that’s important to me: A large part of what we heard was that people were very interested in things at the micro level, whether that was high school football scores or soccer leagues to where to get the car fixed or have dinner. We think there is a chance to build here, exploring ways to take the many Bay Area resources available to us and help people see we can be their one-stop shopping point.


The challenge now, of course, is to take these concepts and use them to think about how we can better serve our wide-reaching community. Our goal is to create a Mercury News that is distinct and that serves the needs of a smart and vibrant community. We want to accomplish several goals with this process:

How do we deepen and re-imagine our relationship with our community? We want the Mercury News to be a place where people go to connect – to us, to each other – and to become participants and not just consumers of news and advertising.

How do we become the premier source of information about Silicon Valley? This cuts across news, practical knowledge, and learning opportunities.

How do we make the Mercury News the most dynamic, most innovative place to work in our industry? This is not just an imperative driven by our fundamental business challenges. This is necessary for us to truly reflect the region that we want to serve.

The story of global innovation is happening here. We need to not just cover it; we need to be part of it.

What can we start doing right now? We should always be asking that and jumping in with all we have on the best ideas we can get to market quickly.

As a starting point, we generated several high-level concepts that suggest new directions …

1) TECH + INNOVATION FOCUS: A completely refocused news product, built around the frame of technology and innovation. The San Jose Mercury News would see its overall story as the narrative of this place called Silicon Valley.

We would redeploy the staff, sectioning and online effort to reflect this news frame. This focus would help give us the kind of momentum we need to drive enthusiasm about the Merc and add personality by giving our products a better a sense of place on a local story that has global implications.

2) A PRINT PRODUCT BASED ON PASSIONS: Inspired by consumer feedback that the news product we make is built for our needs and not for the way people live their lives, we would change the paper to have a focus around these four areas:

  • Learn (the news and information section)
  • Work (the part of our lives around money, investing, and workplace issues)
  • Live (the business of living life in Silicon Valley)
  • Play (the leisure part of life here)

We see these ideas playing out in ways that a news product categorized by topic area might not. This needs fleshing out and prototyping work. But we see potential in connecting to people’s likes, hopes and dreams.

3) ZERO BASE THE STAFF, REFOCUS 75 PERCENT OF THE STAFF TO ONLINE FIRST: We dub ourselves an information company that’s platform agnostic, thinking online first and using print as a vehicle to reverse publish from our first platform:

4) NICHE PRODUCTS IN THE MAIN PRODUCT: Rather than having a single, main print product, create a range of sections and formats that allow readers to get what they want, when they want.

The goal would be to maximize choice and flexibility. There would be a series of sections, anywhere from 8-12, that people could choose to have delivered to their homes. Teams could come together to produce special topical sections when these opportunities are identified. There would be a free afternoon tab (printed and downloadable to letter size paper), with fresh content generated by a staff that comes in early to write for the Web.

There would be a weekend “catch-up” edition with that provides the “Best of the Merc” from that week, perhaps replacing the traditional Saturday newspaper. It might also be printed on better stock and have some coffee table shelf live.

There would be an audio edition designed to reach people in their cars, either via podcast or a broadcast partnership with local radio. An editor would be assigned for each of these sections or formats, and there would be some dedicated staff for each, but some “flex” staff who move across multiple fronts.

Underlying all of these potential directions is a need to engage our community in a different way:

  • Community managers: We need to have a team specifically assigned to fostering conversation and identifying places where we can connect with people in ways that will be good for our journalism and our business.
  • The rethinking process itself: Starting next week, we will be taking our “Rethinking the Mercury News” process even more public. The steering committee has begun blogging about our sessions and will soon be posting prototypes for comment. And we’ll promote these through our networks, through public appearances, and possibly a weekly column in the Sunday or Monday paper. We’re considering holding a town hall meeting at the Merc (would you come?).

We think this will help on several fronts …

We can build a community around the process. The Merc is Silicon Valley’s resource and everyone here can have a voice. We’ll learn a lot, and, we hope, gather some even bolder ideas. And we can go to places where communities have already formed and tell our story.

We can use this as a way to educate and market what we plan to do. Radical change is coming. If people were that upset about the puzzles, what will they think when we “blow up” the whole paper? We need to begin engaging and educating now so there will be easier adopters of what we make later.

Many Merc staffers remain cynical that this process is going to lead anywhere. Or they think there will be some beat restructuring. By taking this public, we’ll begin to help folks understand that the Merc is about to become a far different place than the one they know. As part of that, we will continue to emphasize that our goal is to produce journalism that is better than anything we’ve ever done and to be a successful business that can sustain our role as the leader of conversation in Silicon Valley.

Community ownership: One challenge we’ll face is the reaction from our long-time readers, as noted above. So we’d like to propose a community ownership program. The idea is to give our long-time readers a “share” in the paper. This would be a non- financial share. But it would be something we could give as a reward to folks who had subscribed for some amount of time, say 2-5 years.

The plan might give them the right to attend a quarterly shareholder meeting where they could here reports from editors and the publisher about various developments. They could ask questions, elect a slate of shareholder representatives that would have an advisory role (maybe we give each representative a column, or blog where they comment on the Merc). People could also earn shares through other means, like participating with us as community managers, posting a certain number of comments, and helping us beta test our ideas for improving.


All of these changes have had – and will continue to have – an enormous psychic impact on the people who work here. At the same time, we believe that the Mercury News could truly be the most exciting place to work in journalism. And we want to convey that to all employees. The Mercury News needs to become famous for innovation. And rather than a one-shot reorganization, it needs to become a place that can constantly reinvent itself. It needs to be a constant cycle of innovation.

To do that, everyone needs to be motivated by more than just fear of losing their jobs. We understand that financial rewards will be limited. But we’ve been trying to think of ways to provide employees with incentives and rewards that will inspire them and convey the idea that they work at a place where anything is possible:

  • Storytelling: Reporters in particular would be thrilled to have more opportunity to write with more voice and personality.
  • Equipment: For people to embrace new mediums, they must be users. We should state this as a philosophy, but also create programs that either provide, or help people buy new equipment, like laptops, video cameras. We need to live the story to tell it well.
  • Incentives for advertising, circulation and production: We should establish an even more far-reaching program for departments beyond the newsroom. Those departments already have a lot of interaction as the public face of the Mercury News many days. Can we establish some novel methods for rewarding the experimentation that will be needed across the board?
  • Innovation program: Anyone in the newsroom can propose a job, or a beat, or a product that they want to try. People will submit proposals each month, and the steering committee will review them and pick the most promising one. The two top editors will OK the proposals and have ultimate veto power. If chosen, that person will get three months to pursue their proposal and prove that it is worthwhile. The progress will be re-evaluated and either given additional support or discontinued.
  • MediaNews venture fund: For larger ideas that involve new products, we’d like to create an advisory board, of folks in-house and some local venture capitalists. We will make and suggest P+Ls to local management and, ultimately, to MediaNews. (And if you’re reading in Denver, what do you think of this idea?)
  • Flexible schedules: Blowing up the newsroom will likely wreak havoc on people’s personal lives. Let’s find ways to mitigate this by creating jobs or opportunities where people can work schedules that are flexible. Besides, if we get the technology right, this will be a lot easier.

Some of the ideas will take more time to fully realize, of course. But here are some things we can do right now to show readers and staff that we’re thinking big – and fast.

  • Puzzle section: Assign, or possibly hire, a puzzle editor. Create a puzzle only section. Readers have spoken. Let’s give them what they want. This could be a big immediate win to show our audience that we are listening to their concerns, and we’re reacting to how they use the newspaper to fill their time.
  • Stories and length: Simply announce that we are changing our writing style. Today. Either a story is worth doing in depth, or it’s a 10-inch piece that respects people’s time. And whenever possible, the writing should reflect the writer’s personality. I want to know it’s a Mike Antonnucci or Sean Webby or Karen D’Souza story even if that person’s byline isn’t on it.
  • Begin planning for a single newsroom: Whatever we do, we would argue that we should find a way to place everyone, including the online staff and multimedia people, in a single space. Our newsroom lacks energy, in part because people are spread out over a vast space. And if we cannot all get together physically, let’s figure out virtual space to make that happen.


Rapid prototypes and feedback: The steering committee met all of last week to build some rapid prototypes of each of these major ideas. We hope to have the rapid prototypes ready for the senior leadership at the Merc to check out by next week and the rest of the place to see later in the week. Then we want to get some buy-in, refine a little, take those prototypes back to “extreme users” we can identify, as well as hold audience, advertiser and thought leader round-tables. This would all be done in the month of November, so we clear the decks for the holiday season.

The overall implementation: We’re realistically looking at early 2008 for the biggest things, given that we do not want a major product launch during the busy holiday season.

Thanks for reading this far! Please let us know what you think by dropping a comment on this post.

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72 people have left comments

It would be pretty cool if you made a wiki for this. Just another angle to facilitate feedback and ideas.

I love the weekend catch-up!

Nina Mehta wrote on November 4, 2007 - 1:16 pm | Visit Link

That’s a great idea, Nina … I will bring that to the discussion group on Monday. No reason not to make a wiki and capture more voices. Awesome idea.

And, yeah, we like that weekend idea, too. Seems like many of us could use it with our busy lives!

mattmansfield wrote on November 4, 2007 - 6:55 pm | Visit Link

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mercury insurance auto » Comment on Rethinking the Mercury News: Kick back and read our … wrote on November 5, 2007 - 9:12 am | Visit Link

You’re trying to be all things to all people and that’s a tough order.

You have two populations: those who want a physical copy of the paper to read wherever they are and without needing a computer, and those who customize their news reading by going to various news sites.

Right now you’re trying to be all things by using the physical paper to refer readers to blogs. How much time do you think we have?

Maybe the Merc should have two divisions: one for the traditional paper and one for people who want their news now, want it customized, and are tolerant of the ads you’ll need to use to support the website.

I like a physical paper and appreciate the ads and such in the Sunday paper. That said, the lure of instant, cusomizable news is strong and may overpower my desire to pay for the subscription. You would need to improve your reporting on local, national and international stories and that means more reporters and/or agreements with a variety of freelancers or other newspapers.

Marcia wrote on November 5, 2007 - 8:18 pm | Visit Link

Hey Merc- I have kept thinking about this from when Dean T mentioned it in a column of his a while back. How does a newspaper transition to the digital age?

Attached is one emotional response to that question. :-)
Three ideas:

1) More and more I think it’s local columnists with local connections.

I really would like the following: I’d like to “subscribe” to all content from people like Charlie McCollum, Dean, Linda Goldston, Matt Nauman, etc. Send me emails whenever they write something new, whether it’s included in the paper or not. Include advertising too, since that’s how you make money. It’s a push technology. I don’t want to have to go to the web site to find this stuff. I’d like it emailed to me.

2) Also, I still think your web site is too hard to search. You now have the COLUMNS entry … all the way at the bottom. I think it should be more near the top, and titled COLUMNISTS, and bigger. Focus on the writers and not the info so much.

3) I have twins now, coming up on 2 years old. In the old days, my wife and I’d go see movies, so I’d always be current with current releases. We’d decide what movies to go see by looking at the listings and mini reviews in Eye (along with the full length reviews) for that week. But now we have to wait for the DVDs, but it’s like, shoot what was that movie that the Merc really well reviewed, but it’s not a blockbuster so it doesn’t get advertised in Best Buy’s circular that it’s being released, but I still want to see it, but I can’t remember the title?

I think you should keep all your movie reviews online, searchable by title, the reviewer, rating, week of movie release, week of DVD release (if available), genre, etc. Maybe throw in the director and the top actor or two also. Yeah, I know there’s IMDB and other sites, but I do like your review writers their writing.

Well, there are some ideas anyway.
Kevin Brown
Santa Clara, CA

Kevin Brown wrote on November 5, 2007 - 9:11 pm | Visit Link

We’ve read the Merc since June 86 when we moved to San Jose. Here’s what I miss. A short listing of deaths. I appreciate that you need the income from the paid-for obits. Merc used to publish a comprehensive list - short and to the point. I missed the death of a colleague because of your “new look.”
Sports pages are great. As good as; No, better than the Wash Post and the LA Times. Places we used to live.
I quarrel with Dennis over his preoccupation with complainers (his term); whiners (mine).
Revamped business section is very well done. Kudos.

Allan MacLaren wrote on November 5, 2007 - 9:30 pm | Visit Link

Would like to see the return of the previous style (or similar) of the Television Guide. Do not like the current one. Too much like a newspaper.

Shelly Schwartz wrote on November 5, 2007 - 10:02 pm | Visit Link

TECH INNOVATION FOCUS — Would that mean you would abandon or minimize general community news?

Maurreen Skowran wrote on November 5, 2007 - 11:35 pm | Visit Link

My views are perhaps contrarian to the majority I’ve been reading here. Just a couple of observations:
1. I like a printed newpaper, one I can take with me and read at my leisue throughout the day. I really don’t have time to check alll the news websites, so I pay to subscribe to your newspaper rather than reading the free websites.
2. As for internatiional or national news–brief is good enough for me. If it’s a major event, I prefer to read about it in “Newsweek” when all the dust has settled. It’s more efficient than reading lots of material one day that turns out to be incomplelte or mistaken the next.
3. Your strength is local news. Newspapers do a much better job than television or radio, which seem to repeat your stories.
4. Some columnists are great, and I read them every time they appear. Others just don’t appeal to me.
5. I worry about the increasing concentration of ownership which may censor what the public will have the chance to learn about.
6. I wish you well as you evolve to meet our present and future conditions.

Chuck Flagg wrote on November 5, 2007 - 11:41 pm | Visit Link

Here’s my top three reasons why I subscribe to the print edition.:

1. For analysis, rather than hard news (which I largely have heard before I read the paper). However, you removed the best part of the Sunday paper when you deleted the op/ed and analysis that was in the Perspective Section. Put them back in the paper.

2. To read the sports section. Fans don’t just want the scores and replays of the game. We’re looking for insights about what happened or will happen. Also, at least once each day, I should get a good chuckle from the section as well. Think more Mark Purdy, et al.

3. I look forward to doing the crossword puzzle. It should be clever and educational. Take a look at the one that’s in the Friday Wall Street Journal each week. It’s a great example. BTW, what the heck is the puzzle doing in the classified ad section?

Howard Lewis wrote on November 5, 2007 - 11:56 pm | Visit Link

- I like having the print edition, even if I don’t read it on the day it shows up at my door. I usually end up taking my leisurely Saturday mornings to read the whole week. I agree with Howard Lewis (post above) who misses the Perspective section. I looked forward to that every Sunday and now … nothing.

- I do appreciate and understand the need to change in a Web 2.0 world, but here are some things that have bugged me recently about the paper: Advertising on the front page. For me, the front page is sacrosanct. Nothing annoys me more than to see some kind of advertisement at the bottom. I know why you need to sell ads, but please, leave the front page out of it. I also miss the currency exchange in the biz section. I know I can look it up online, but I guess I just liked reading it in the paper. And lastly, I don’t like the comics in the Thursday Eye section. I’d rather it be placed in the back of Section B rather than in Eye.

- If you are going to up the puzzle ante, any chance we can more than just the Sundy NYT crossword?

- I like the idea of columnists becoming more storyteller-ish. I really enjoy reading Sue Hutchinson’s column, and Charie McCollum and Mr. Roadshow are some of the first columns I read … and thanks for bringing back News of the Weird. I like the little things in the paper, because I can get the big things on the web. I like Kevin Brown’s idea of push technology for columns/snippets of writers I want to read (post above).

- Thanks for the new biz section, though. It’s much, much better than before.

- Overall, I’m very glad that we have a printed newspaper. I don’t want our newspaper to become a historical artifact.

Phyllis Blans
San Carlos, CA

Phyllis Blans wrote on November 6, 2007 - 5:04 am | Visit Link

Print will never go away, there is something visceral about holding a paper in your hands that online will never be able to match. But that being said, there are still a couple issues I have:
1) Stop playing hide-and-seek with the comics section. Any beginning publication designer can tell you that randomly moving a primary section of the paper around is just a bad thing. When we pick up the paper, we want consistency.
2) Like many others, I miss not only the Perspective section, but also the daily political cartoons. The political cartoons were a far more accurate barometer of daily news than anything on your front page.

Edward Stapleton wrote on November 6, 2007 - 6:38 am | Visit Link

3) Find an editor who pays attention to timeliness and accuracy. We were promised a more accurate and relevant Television Listings section as a tradeoff when it was switched to the bulkier, more cumbersome current version. Instead, the channel listing accuracy has become worse than ever, the section is hard to handle, and you can’t even fold it on the center seam. You regularly post gallery and theater openings after the show has closed, flog book signings and promotional events weeks after all the tickets have already been sold. Just because the printed page isn’t in HTML format is no excuse for this level of laziness.

Edward Stapleton wrote on November 6, 2007 - 6:52 am | Visit Link


Thanks for directing me over here. I’ve gotten a hearty laugh out of this report.

My favorite part is where you say you want reporters to show a personality, yet do so in only 10 inches! Hahahahahahahahahahaha! I always enjoy it when designers try to sound as if they understand writing!

I’m looking forward to this effort being the colossal failure it’s destined to be.

Robert Knilands wrote on November 6, 2007 - 10:39 pm | Visit Link

Robert: Let’s please keep the conversation at a high level. We appreciate dissent and need it for this process, but you’re also required to not do any name-calling. So please consider this a warning to be a bit more open-minded and fair. Thanks!

mattmansfield wrote on November 6, 2007 - 10:43 pm | Visit Link

All great ideas and I look forward to seeing many of these projects develop over time. To elaborate on the international section, our very diverse community deserves to know how business in the valley impacts the global market and vice versa.

Beth wrote on November 7, 2007 - 12:40 am | Visit Link

No one was called a name in that post, and I refuse to be a woodenhead and say something like “all great ideas and I look forward to seeing many of these projects develop over time” when on their face, they make no sense.

Good luck coming up with a plan people want when you accept only feedback that supports your pre-conceived idea. To me, it sounds like what we’ve seen from the last few years of the design-based approach — forget about what readers want and just do what you want.

Robert Knilands wrote on November 7, 2007 - 1:16 am | Visit Link

My wife and I have been taking the paper for 30 years.If you don’t start printing the truth about this corrupt administration, and the lies they tell, we will go to the Internet for free.——the BBC—— This government has all but ended us as a true world leader.

Thank you,
Len and Molly Cozzolino

Len and Molly Cozzolino wrote on November 7, 2007 - 6:01 am | Visit Link

1. get rid of the 3″ x 3″ stickers that cover the headlines on the front page.
2. put features in the same place on the same shape paper every day. I hate wasting time trying to figure out where something went.
3. for home delivery, deliver the Sunday paper on Sunday, don’t give me half on Saturday.

- jack

Jack Faraone wrote on November 7, 2007 - 6:03 am | Visit Link

HELLO Mercury News!

I AM, and always will be, a newspaper reader!

PLEASE put several pages, if not its own section, on HEALTH. Our population is SO IN NEED of information on

3)Rest & Sleep
4)Medicine..DRUGS and VITAMINS
5) Teeth and Eye Care
6)Diseases ( HOW To ADVOID!!!)
7)Medical Research…it is booming now!!!

I think you get my idea! I’ve wondered over the years WHY you never had a “Health” section but figured it was not my place to call and suggest it!

Thank You for this opportunity to help make your paper THE BEST!!


“Mercury reader since 1965!

Deanna wrote on November 7, 2007 - 6:05 am | Visit Link

I work in real estate development and have found the Merc’s coverage to be FAR outpaced by the Business Journal in recent months. I have watched as the Merc has slowly stripped away real estate news until all that is left is AP blurbs about the housing crisis. (Even the statistics & map that used to appear on Tuesday have disappeared.) What happened to Tuesday’s real estate news section?

What the Merc needs is a weekly business section devoted to the real estate industry, specifically development. If there is a Tech section every week, there should be a Real Estate section every week. You need to turn this around if you expect one of the valley’s largest industries to take interest in your publication.


Thank you for hearing me out.


Matt Swehla wrote on November 7, 2007 - 6:07 am | Visit Link

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Mortgage Business » Comment on Rethinking the Mercury News: A status report by Matt Swehla wrote on November 7, 2007 - 7:21 am | Visit Link

Thanks to everyone who has been commenting. We know we have a lot of work to go (especially on TV listings and puzzles!), but we’re really very heartened by this initial outpouring.

Tomorrow, Chris and I will start trying to capture the biggest themes we are seeing and tell you about those. And, based on what you have said in private emails, we are planning an town hall meeting here at the Merc very soon. We need a little time for promotion, but we’re hoping we can pull off a starter session before Thanksgiving. Hoping to meet many of you in person.

Stay tuned!

mattmansfield wrote on November 7, 2007 - 7:36 am | Visit Link

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Mortgage » Comment on Rethinking the Mercury News: A status report by … wrote on November 7, 2007 - 7:38 am | Visit Link

I have been subscribing to the SJ Mercury News for approximately 30 years and have always enjoyed the paper and most of the changes in the formatting that have been made over the years…always making the News my favorite newspaper. However, the recent changes to the News have made my daily routine of reading the News a very unfulfilling, un-enjoyable experience. You see…in my house…we don’t just read the paper…we have an experience with the paper! Each and every day, my husband and I (and anyone else present) not only read the paper but we do all of the puzzles and the quiz together. Sometimes we even call our friends to do the quiz when we know that it will be interesting to them.

Now…you have put the Sudoku on a different page each day…it is not with the comics…AND…it is on the SPORTS PAGE some days which means that I cannot even touch it until my husband has read every single box score and read every article in the section!!!


Thanks for listening,

Kim Cirimele wrote on November 7, 2007 - 7:42 am | Visit Link

Readers who are expecting more content, a health section, the return of the op/ed section, etc. should prepare to be disappointed.

This initiative is being headed by Matt Mansfield, a die-hard designer. I doubt he’s written or line-edited an article in his entire career. That’s why you see comments like “Cut to 10 inches. Today.” He has not Clue No. 1 about what he speaks.

This initiative is about feigning interest in what readers want. Then the Merc will find ways to cut the product even more so it can lower expenses, and you’ll have even less content with a lot more focus on visuals.

Robert Knilands wrote on November 7, 2007 - 2:18 pm | Visit Link

If Singleton is going to continue laying people off, this whole enterprise is moot. The paper is already not nearly as good as it was under Tony Ridder, and Tony Ridder had spent the previous 10 years ruining it himself.

Sorry to tell you, but if Singleton doesn’t care about the quality of the newspaper — and he doesn’t — you aren’t going to be able to do anything to improve it. You don’t cut your way to success, and all he’s doing is cutting from an already way-too-small staff.

Someone with a soul would *invest* during hard times, not cut. But of course, he doesn’t have one.

So this whole project, it seems to me, is pointless.

Biff Bigglesworth wrote on November 7, 2007 - 2:48 pm | Visit Link

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April wrote on November 7, 2007 - 3:30 pm | Visit Link

Please get rid of the log in feature ( only being able to access certain features if first going thru a log in process - annoying!). It seems that you might already be phasing it out?

Lisa Soon wrote on November 7, 2007 - 3:34 pm | Visit Link

I could make a lot of specific suggestions that have already been made/considered/embraced or scorned or somewhere in between.

Instead I’ll think out of the box (to use a well worn phrase) and just tell you what I want for my subscription. Then you think about what you might say to me about why you can’t possibly give me, the customer, what I want.

1. I want what I want in the paper, and none of what I don’t want. Sounds simple? Why do I have to pay for and throw away 3/4 of the paper that I never look at? (e.g., sports, classified, real estate, much of entertainment).

2. I want to be able to fill in a subscriber’s survey form that tells you what news to send me and what ads will be of interest to me. I’ll do this with my computer, your computer takes the info and it’ll take minimal if any human intervention to build a profile of me that fits your business model. You ought to be able to tailor subscription costs based on the amount of advertising I’m willing to accept. The computer can do all of that.

3. You can send me a soft copy or hard copy if I want to pay delivery costs. I want mine hard copy delivered by mail 4 times a week. You make the best deal you can with the post office to make this happen in a timely fashion and keep delivery cost competitive. You ought to be able to figure out how to print my copy with my address and sort it along with others by zip code for delivery to the USPS. (or send me a copy via the internet when I ask for it)

4. Please let’s make it 8-1/2 x 11 and stapled together. Plain old newsprint or at least cheap paper is fine for most if not all. I realize this won’t endear me to the career pressmen; but the old large format papers are a PITA to read and are a century out of date.

5. I’d like part of my subscription to include news via the internet. I don’t mind paying for it. Just add it to my monthly bill. In my case I may want temporary changes so I can get special news categories and even go as far as having frequent email feeds on important developing stories (like brush fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains, big wrecks on hiway 17, heavy weather times, some juicy gossip coming out of local business or politics) or maybe even advertising specials in areas I’m interested in.

6. How about making deals with Ebay and Craig’s list for classified item feeds directly to my paper copy of items I say I’m interested in? I just give you the search strings I’d use for either one and the computers do the rest. I get daily email summaries from several Yahoo group forums. Maybe you could include that in my “paper” so I don’t have to sit at the computer to read them.

7. By the way, we subscribe to the Economist, Atlantic Monthly, Consumer Reports and several special interest hobby magazines all of which get read pretty thoroughly. We also are long term subscribers to the SJMN and are seriously wondering how long we’ll keep our subscription going as the newspaper continues to remove editorial content and even advertising that we’re interested in. We still read the Editorial pages, Mr. Roadshow and a few in depth articles and my wife reads the comics, some of the entertainment stuff and local news. Oh yes… We’re intensely interested in seasonal indepth before and after coverage of elections and ballot measures. But that’s about it.

Ed Weldon wrote on November 7, 2007 - 3:37 pm | Visit Link

The best thing in the Mercury News is the business section. Please don’t reduce the market data detail for Silicon Valley stocks. Keep up the stories about the little startups that haven’t even gone public yet.

The most annoying thing in the paper is those paste-ons like pop-up ads on internet. The first thing I do is tear them off, and that may also tear up the front page.

My address may be Cupertino, but I live in a little piece cut off by the creek (Stevens) to east and south as well as by 280 south of that. This area functions in Los Altos, not Cupertino. We ought to get the Peninsula Edition here. Once I phoned about it and was told to buy it at the store. The nearby groceries all carry the Main Edition, not local at all. I have to subscribe to the Los Altos Town Crier to find out what is going on locally.

Gerry Dunckel wrote on November 7, 2007 - 4:45 pm | Visit Link

I read through Ed’s comments- and couldnt help but think to my self is this guy fin for real? He wants a customized newspaper because he doesnt want to have to throw away 3/4ths of it. who does this man think he is requesting personal copies of his customized newspaper to be sent to him soft copy when he wants it. And he wants his hard copy express sent to him 4 days a week blah blah blah…. your 93 cents a day is hardly worth the Mercs time. And i feel a little saddened that I wasted my time reading that nonsence.

Julie Kasik wrote on November 7, 2007 - 10:58 pm | Visit Link

Ditto for better international and national coverage. Currently, I don’t get what I need from the Merc, so I read the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune for that.

I myself don’t care for puzzles and believe they should only take up a very small space in the newspaper. Please, no more puzzles. If people want them, they can buy puzzle books, right?

Valley Girl wrote on November 8, 2007 - 2:30 am | Visit Link

I am an old-fashioned person who loves newspapers. I subscribe to the Chronicle and almost always buy the Merc. at lunch — that’s at least two newspapers a day, plus on line news sources. So I feel I am exactly the type of media consumer that the Merc. should be after. Yet time after time I am disappointed in the Merc. The writing style is not just bland, it’s simplisitic. Most of the articles seem to be written at a 6th grade level at best. (Funny, I don’t notice many 6th graders buying the paper at Starbucks.) This valley is full of people with advanced degrees! We want challenging, nuanced articles by interesting writers. We don’t want to talked down to. The Merc. has always relied too heavily (in my opinion) on fluffy features-type articles and wire stories spiffed up with a lot of color photos. The most interesting writer you have is Mr. Roadshow, and he writes about traffic, for goshsakes!

Rebecca wrote on November 8, 2007 - 6:37 am | Visit Link

I understand reduced personnel in the newsroom and shrinking subscriptions have a big hand in the new changes to the Merc. While good, I suggest that maintaining a solid “back-to-basics” foundation is just as important. For instance, I have lately been noticing typos, incomplete sentences and grammatical errors creeping in more often. Examples: in the 11/8 edition about a local artist named “Hawes”, a photo caption referred to him as “Hayes”; in your own ad looking for a market research expert, that had so many grammatical errors that reading it made my head ache. Ok, it was an ad, but from the Merc ! Would you be willing to pay $1 for every such errors found by readers ? I think that will be motivation to keep these errors to a minimum.

joey wrote on November 8, 2007 - 10:12 pm | Visit Link

Hmmm…SJMN has no personality, much like its namesake city. Now’s a special time and opportunity to create something new, to redefine what’s important, to incorporate what readers and customers want, to inject passion and purpose. This doesn’t come with a better design, this comes with content that is deep, current, localized, thought-provoking and fun. A 10inch story is useless and is downright irritating. It forces me to ask more questions than it answers.

There’s so many things happening in this valley that you guys don’t report on. One example is Local politics (please post how each politician voted on each issue and have this as an updated website). Analysis is great, but let us see their voting records so we can vote them out of office. This entire valley is infected by apathy and uncaring. Show that you care about the place where you do business.

Why do you think Roadshow is so popular? Local issues, results-oriented, quick/factual/detailed, opportunities for public participation/feedback. Let’s try to build on the strengths of that. Start by having an archive of your movie and restaurant reviews.
You are a creator of information. No matter how you categorize your sections, make stories coherent, factual, engaging. Add pictures and video and related content. Just today there was a story of a burglar caught on videotape. Where was the video?
You are a store of information. Make your entire archives available for free search. Make the search accurate and powerful and have the search results relevant.
You are a disseminator of info: ads have their place, but why are they sometimes larger than the accompanying pictures in the story? I know your family of online newspapers share the same format and that ties your hands. In the short term that may save you money. In the long run, you’re just part of a boring corporate machine that cookie cuts. Personalize the format of and make it original.

there isn’t any shame in copying what’s successful and what isn’t. Look at the site as the incubator for what works and what hasn’t. They have in the recent past got rid of paid online subscriptions, they’ve expanded on their video and multimedia offerings, they’re constantly tweaking their front page to make it more user friendly, they have MODERATED comments, strong blog content from their blog writers and columnists, and an active community with differing opinions.

To be honest, I turn off all page ads, but I do look at the frys ads weekly, macy’s too. If there are relevant text ads, I click on those too. I don’t read the print edition and haven’t since 5+ years ago, but when I did, I always read the comics, and tried to finish all the puzzles and craved more.

TOM wrote on November 9, 2007 - 8:28 am | Visit Link

I appreciate your interest in improving the Merc. As long time subscribers, my husband and I have noticed the paper’s quality decline; it just seems to be sliding ever downward with less space devoted to news and analysis, more dumbed down entertainment gossip, the loss of the Sunday Perspectives section etc. We’d like more intelligent, informative and provacative writing, better coverage of local events and people, analysis of trends that influence our region. In general, you coverage of local immigration issues has been exemplary, and we’d like to see more of this value-added reporting.

I know the world is moving towards Web 2.0 thinking, but frankly, I don’t have time everyday to read what countless other people think about everything I’m interested in reading. Please consider sticking to the basics of great reporting and great writing. Thank you.

Nancy Serrurier wrote on November 12, 2007 - 12:47 am | Visit Link

I clearly recall a 1950s seventh or eighth grade school trip visit to the New York Times facility near Times Square in New York City. Editorial and printing were in the same building. They made a point of pride to assert that the paper was written to the sixth grade level. One must note that they were refering to sixth grade level in New York City schools. The Times was delivered to our two room grade school in NJ every day. I still read it daily. How many grade (mddle) school kids read the newspaper in school today?

David Hindin, Sunnyvale wrote on November 13, 2007 - 7:38 am | Visit Link

Matt and Company: I know you’ve got a tough row to hoe. As seen by the comments above, everyone wants everything, big and small. That’s the curse of the redesign.

I like a couple of directions you’re hinting at: the entrepreneurialism (the venture-capital analogy is perfect for the Bay Area) and going for an extremely local focus.

However, going super, super local only works if the writers, editors, photogs, even designers are bought in. I mean, how are you going to convince your best writers they need to cover middle school softball and not Barry Bonds? The pay and prestige must be commensurate with the level of importance you’re trying to attach to it — and you still may lose good people who refuse to hyperlocalism (for want of a better term) as anything but a demotion. The problem with local news, as always, is that it ain’t cheap.

Large nations have a hard time fighting small wars; big papers struggle like hell to cover small news.

I also see a few areas that could easily turn into a mere rebranding of the same old thing you’ve been doing for decades: to wit, the Learn, Work, Live, Play labelling. So easy for that to become just a new set of headers for newspaper sections.

Jim McBee wrote on November 13, 2007 - 12:48 pm | Visit Link

Jim: Thanks for the smart feedback. The question of what “local” means certainly needs a lot of discussion here in Silicon Valley. As many folks commenting point out (and we do here), this place is a center of global innovation. That’s different than a lot of other places.

Those bullet points were separate ideas (though with some overlap, to be sure). We did like the tech/innovation lens because it gives us a mission and story, serves the people here, and gets us toward a radical solution that’s not just the same old thing with new section headers. But as we hear what else the audience needs, we’re drawn to ideas of letting more people here tell stories we could never get to because 1) we can never be everywhere and 2) we don’t have the staff to do it anyway.

For those who do not know, Jim is part of the team running smartnews

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Rethinking the Mercury News » Blog Archive » And now, a word from our Beat Blogging founder… wrote on November 16, 2007 - 3:35 pm | Visit Link

I agree with others who have said the quality of news has deteriorated in the 20 plus years I have subscribed. This seems especially true in the last year or so.

I appreciate cost cutting is involved but it seems you have cut overly cut costs in the news area. On the other hand, it seems to me that you have too many columnists at the expense of retaining reporters. You are supposed to be a NEWSpaper.

Mr. Roadshow is very good, but that is because he actually reports on concrete (not a pun!) subjects, facts, and makes improvements. Too many of your other columnists seem to parrot press releases (like your main technology columnist who rarely analyzes the information he’s given…latest product is the best!), or give personal opinions on news events that are no more insightful than what I can hear from my friends and neighbors, or read in readers’ letters. You do not have a columnist who is on a par with, for example, the late Herb Caen, Art Hoppe, or Dave Barry. In fact, why not pay for Dave Barry’s column in lieu of one or two of your columnists? Come to think of it, you used to run Dave Barry’s column once a week.

What is the current ratio of space devoted to columnists’ vs. hard news, and has this changed over the years?

Business coverage has also certainly suffered. Stock and mutual fund data is abysmal compared to previously. I know I can find it on the internet, and so I have, (but I would prefer to see it when I drink my morning coffee in the kitchen instead of on the computer).

The one area that does not seem to have declined is your Sports section, which admittedly is the one section in which I have no interest at all. So I have no qualms if you delete that entirely, but I suppose that would be unpopular.

Oh yes, bring back all the Sunday comics. Again, I know I can get it on the internet but I prefer to see them in the newspaper.

silicon engineer wrote on November 20, 2007 - 9:33 pm | Visit Link

The comments and subjects covered in this post–along with Paul Steiger’s article in the Wall Street Journal recently–make clear the necessity for newspapers to complement, rather than compete, against Internet companies. For more than 40 years, Steiger, as a newspaper professional for the LA Times and Journal, maintained high journalistic standards, focusing on informing and enlightening the papers’ readers. Likewise, despite severe advertising drain, the writers who commented on this post share the same deep regard for the Mercury, as do I, and know that media transitions have occurred throughout the century, leading to increased content and a better understanding of our world. I have a personal interest in the Mercury News’ future, since both my father and grandfather worked there for over 30 years each before retiring. They shared the paper’s vision of public service for one of the most progressive regions of the country. And their work was not in vain. In response to Steiger’s article, I wrote a New Year’s eve blog post on MarketingBeyond: “Saving Newspapers and the Printed Word in an Electronic Age.” The link is shown above.Those of you in the business and others who care deeply about the future of newspapers should not fear the future. New ventures and partnerships with electronic media have already formed, editorial content is continually adapting and the printed word will never die.

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