Another News Publication Says It’s Your Source for Community News & Information

The marketplace for news and advertising products in the county is continuing to heat up. This afternoon, while getting caught up on current local news on the net, we tripped across a recently launched news site, the Cecil Guardian. While it’s just getting underway, the mast head says it’ll be “your source for community news and information” and a print version will circulate Dec. 3.

Indeed we have lots of ’printed matter out there to occupy our attention and deliver readers for those expensive advertisements.  The Watershed Chronicle reported on some of this early this week. Actually this isn’t an anomaly in the county for such conditions generally existed here. But the problem in recent decades is not the volume of news print that’s pushed onto the street, but the quality of the content. If someone will start bringing home quality, original news, dig into stories just a little, and periodically question politicians, they’ll have an enterprise that will have great value. Readers want such a product in this underserved market (from that perspective) and if you have lots of readers, the value of advertisements soar appropriately.

We’ll have to see how this one works out because the track record in the county isn’t strong in the area of delivering valued content in the 21st century.  Since print news first appeared here, with the Elkton Press in the 1820s, over 60 different titles have been published here. There was a time at the turn of the 20th century that 8 hometown weeklies were issued. Of course, I realize that was a long time ago, but back in the 1970s we still had two independents, the Cecil Whig and the Cecil Democrat, and the News Journal competed aggressively with local content.

Some of my best insight for local research comes from using the News Journal in the 1970s. Those columnists knew how to call things the way they say them and mildly challenge local government institutions. It’s a process that is helpful for good governance.

We’ll see if someone is finally going to capitalize on this market opportunity associated with sought after content and couple it with the Net to delivery it in an efficient, cost-effective way.

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16 responses to “Another News Publication Says It’s Your Source for Community News & Information

  1. Nice job, Mike. You beat me to it. That’s what’s great about the internet; you snooze, you lose. Keeps people on their toes. I’m really enjoying the emergence of all these other content alternatives out there, not just locally, but everywhere. The old-time media have had their time. I think you are absolutely correct about good content. With all this new competition, I think we’re heading for a rebirth of “content as king.” It’s great.

  2. This is being produced by the same folks who put out the “cecil connections’ magazine. Very nice pictures and soft features there. I would expect more of the same in what appears to be a blog more aimed at replicating/promoting a printed weekly newspaper product, which can command a lot higher advertising rate than an online only publication.

  3. Louise:

    Having seen Cecil Connections around for a year or so, that’s what I’m curious about. Will they continue to follow the content/business model they’re using with Connections? It’s a crowded field for “soft features” in Cecil County but we have little hard news. There are plenty of publications out there providing pages full of print “infomercials” for local businesses and for the politicians, but someone needs to report harder news.

    Surely, borrowing Dan’s phrase, if “content is king,” someone will figure that the Cecil County marketplace has a lot of room for quality journalism provider. On the lower end, with soft features, commodity news and lots of infomercials, it’s a very crowded field.

    We’ll have to see. I know the talk I’m hearing around town, but we’ll see what the product looks like.

    Someone coud develop a viable enterprise around quality content and the synergy of traditional delivery with new technologies. The other segement of the market is far too crowded, in a time when print is in decline everywhere.

    Notice what’s going on with a couple of quality, virtual content providers in neighboring areas such as the Harford Dagger, the Chestertown Spy and the Glasgow Observer.

    A few local bloggers are publishing the type of quality content I gain insights from. There’s Cecil Times. Though a lot of content isn’t posted there when something goes online, it is something I read for it provides understanding. The Same thing can be said with the Watershed Chronicle, though it focuses on lots of topics.

    Just as an business-person saw the opportunity with the Whig in the decades after WW-II to build a powerful, quality publishing enterprise, someone will identify this new opportunity in this market and run with it someday.

  4. Thanks so much for your kind words about the Cecil Times. We try to do only original reporting on issues that are not being covered, locally or regionally, at all or with any depth.

    We have a fondness for plodding through data and stats, (like the Census fine print) which has become a bit of a lost art in the printed press. It takes time to do and most newspapers are too busy fighting fires–figuratively and literally– with skeleton staffs due to cost-cutting.

    Both The Sun and the News Journal have all but abandoned Cecil County coverage. In many parts of Cecil County you can’t even find a print edition of The Sun– production and distribution costs outweigh the value of the circulation. I wouldn’t hold out any hopes for a new print publication having a viable business unless the money put into the editorial quality of the product was minimal.

    Online is really the only way to do a start up news operation, since the distribution and production costs are minimal. But advertisers are still unwilling to pay much of anything for online advertising in a news product.

    So unless you have a wealthy patron, like the non-profit Voice of San Diego, it’s hard to make a go of it as a profitable business.

  5. I don’t necessarily think a print product can’t work, if done right. A lot of the profitability problems with newspapers today have more to do with supporting the giant corporate organizations that own them and debt service on the obscene amounts of money those companies borrowed to buy up all those newspapers in the first place. As for the in-depth, hard news, that’s a systemic problem, I think. Most newspapers have left that kind of work behind in favor of easier, lighter (and less potentially offensive) fare years ago, so most reporters have never properly been trained to write in-depth pieces, or worked in an atmosphere where that kind of work is encouraged or rewarded. A small staff of the right kinds of people could definitely do some great, in-depth work for collectively less money than one large publishing company executive makes.

  6. Cecil Times:

    I’m certainly glad to have Cecil Times out there in the blogsphere adding insightful, thoughtful Cecil Co. content for readers. It’s the type of material that I can’t find anywhere else and I read it carefully, giving it my full attention.

    Compare that to the time I give my daily print paper. Perahps that is 5 minutes for the entire thing on most days. A quick glance at the local news stories to see if there’s something more than the routine police and fire copy. After that it’s off to the editorial page to check out the letters to the editor, with a stop on the obit page in between. I sure don’t want to see the stale wire copy or the syndicated political columns. I will have received those for free in a much more timely fashion.

    It would be a great to see a serious content provider, print or virtually, start serving the Cecil County market.

  7. Dan:

    In this market to get the distribution a publication needs for its advertisers, it’ll still has to have print circulation to support the e-edition. That’ll change over the next decades, but it’s a traditional market and a profitable publisher will need to leverage the strengths of each delivery model as the accelerating habit of reading print changes.

    That’s what amazes me about the Whig. Think if the newspapers executives looking out for that asset had the visioin to leverage the strength of the market monopoly they had with an online Cecil County news portal. I’ve often wondered why they didn’t do that and make the e-product the place to go for near real-time, often updated news. Think of the value they’d create for those products by using the strong traditional print product to drive lots of hits to the web site. My guess is there’s hardly enough traffic on the site to support the cost of maintaining it the way the publishers support that resource these days. Long before the current executives showed up, the Whig management was having a hard time figure out what to do with the web.

    People just don’t think of going to http://www.cecilwhig.com for breaking real time news and added extras and as they drift away from legacy print, it’s a real problem for a business enterprise.

    I noticed a month or so ago an announcement that the Whig had created new executive position to manage its digital publications!

    BTW, in my opinion, the problems at the Whig have never been at the news room level. They’ve had many strong editors and reporters in that department over the decades. The executives upstairs just needed to give them the resources to do their job and then get out of the way and let them coverage the news, where that story took them. Sometimes local ownership can be a challenge too as reporters get onto stories.

  8. Dan and Mike,
    Good points. Dan, you are very right that the combination of huge debtloads and corporate greed are at the core of the bankruptcies we are seeing– especially the Tribune Co. and Sam Zell’s use of debt loading on the backs of the employees. But the change in the online/print equation is the more troubling long term problem.

    Some niche publications have made a successful model out of hybrid print/online publications, such as some political-government publications and web sites covering Congress and Washington. If adverftisers want to reach that highly specialized audience, they have to advertise in those publications/websites.

    But for a general audience, the path is not so clear. Especially in Cecil County, the reader marketplace is torn in multiple directions, often based upon where people work and/or where they used to live before moving to Cecil County. So here people read Baltimore, Philly or Wilmington newspapers (or websites). The Whig becomes an afterthought, and probably the subscription you cancel when money is tight at home.

    By having a subscription model for its website, the Whig is doing what the rest of newspapers should have done from the beginning. But at the same time, the subscription-only online model means that most people will not turn to your site for breaking local news because they can only see one paragraph of the news. People figure if it’s really important, they can pick it up for free on Google news or another aggregator.

    As for the local landscape, does anyone find it curious or a coincidence that the Cecil Observer, which put together a nicely designed, quality website, suddenly went blank a few weeks ago– at about the same time this new publication began its efforts to launch an online/print hybrid? Hey, I’m all for a laid off guy getting a new paying gig…

  9. Cecil Times:

    Of course, if a corporation is going to leverage a web site as the place to go for breaking local news, they’re going to have deliver the news 24/7. I sure don’t surf over to http://www.cecilwhig.com for breaking national and international news from the Cecil Whig web site. I head to sources for more indepth coverage, such as CNN and NPR, as I did over the past few days.

    However, f the the site routinely delivered on a continuing basis, breaking local news, I’d head right over there when something was going on. But as a person with a serious life-long newspaper reading habit, it’s the last place I think of heading to for breaking news of any time. And that’s just a learned response from failing to finding copy there.

    Today’s there no place to go for that additional news. While the resources were always meager there was a time when we had a small daytime A.M. station with a staffed news department and there was a small local cable news operation.

    Then too, there was a time, not all that long ago, when the Whig’s editorial department covered it’s beat very well. Couple that with the excellent coverage from an outside sources, the News Journal, and we had a good, insightful and balanced perspective on local news. That included local political columns that often challenged local political thinking.

    It is so easy today to do multi-platform reporting if you’re the largest news gathering organization covering a beat. You’ve already done the bulk of the labor intensive part, collecting the news. Push it in every way possible for if you don’t in this era when anyone can deliver content, someone else will take care of that.

    It’s a time of market change and the economic challenges are there so leverage your resources and protect the value of your brand. I can’t imagine why that doesn’t occur to some publishing executive looking out for our paper. Of course, I’m just those professional newspaper executive don’t need suggestions from the blogosphere as they look out for a newspaper that had a proud tradition of covering Cecil County.

    When I talk to oldtimers, I often surprised at how many mention they’ve dropped the Whig’s subscription. I would never have guessed that the local market would reach such a state. The publishers had to work really hard to create these conditions, but that’s what happens when you significantly cut back on the quality of your product and other outlets become available.

  10. MIKE,
    I think your question has been answered. This new “Guardian” publication has an “article” about Cecil College moving some operations to a new locationl. the article has a “byline” of Adam Karas– a q

  11. Cecil Times

    For sure. . .

    The bottom market tier certainly is a crowded place in Cecil County with lots of print infomercials, classifieds and really soft featuures.

    You’d think someone would see the opportunity, and work in the segement where there’s no competition. Imagine what could happen!

  12. OOOOOOPS! My last comment above got cut off and I didn’t look online to realize it until just now. Sorry to be so sloppy.
    My point was that this “article” was in fact a press release, written by someone who is a public relations person for the college. It was then published as though it was a “news” article.
    But the real kicker is that the Cecil Whig published the exact same “article,” word for word but without the “byline.” So the lack of journalistic professionalism is equal in both the mainstream Whig and the newcomer Guardian!

  13. Mike,
    To address your other on-point observations, yes, there is indeed good journalism that can, and should, be done in Cecil County. The Cecil Times has tried, in its own way, to do so.
    But there are some very real problems in doing so. If you dare to do real journalism in this county, you face the prospect of legal threats– as well as physical threats– and you need to have a pro-bono lawyer on speed dial.

    Even if you are a trained professional journalist who knows the ins and outs of libel law, some local politicians and/or lawyers can threaten SLAP suits to try to silence anyone who would dare to report on what the local powers-that-be are up to. The real journalist might be totally within the realm of the 1st Amendment– but then, this is Cecil County… the rule of law hardly applies here.

  14. Cecil Times:

    Thanks for sharing your comments about journalism in Cecil County.

    Gee it’s a really crowded market in the Cecil Co. arena of canned press releases, favorable copy for politicans, infomercials, classifieds, and light features. I noticed the one about the artists co-op in Elkton. Both the Guardian and the Whig ran that “feature” piece.

    Surely someday, someone will figure out that the successful business model calls for competing in another part of the market here, which reqires a little serious reporting and some mid-weight features.

    Reporters, in any market, need to be a little skeptical, ask challenging questions, and fact-check assertions, especially of the political leadership. It all helps to make for good, quality governance when an elected official knows someone will check their statements and follow-up on questions.

    When I see those “infomercials” describing in pages of detail how wonderful such and such a business is, I often wonder how many people really read those pieces. I’m sure the business owner, immediate family members, and a few friends do. But to create value in the advertising, you have to delivery thousands of eyebells. You really need a lot of that commodity to make those advertisements valuable and that requires content that’s going to engage subscribers/readers and get them to pay attention to the ink on the page.

    Notice what’s going on with a couple of new media products in adjoning markets. There’s the Chestertown Spy in Kent Co, and the Harford Dagger in Bel Air. Both of those e-publishers are producing quality copy that digs into a story and they actually have some serious opinions.

  15. I would like to see another successful print news publication in the county. That is why I subscribed to the Cecil Guardian. At $24.00 per year, this is a bargain. Why not subscribe for a year, thereby providing operating capital and making success more likely ? It seems to me that the autopsy is premature.

  16. Bob:

    Thanks for stopping by Someone Noticed to post your comments on this subject.

    I agree that we’re underserved by legacy media. A quality print publication going after the higher-end content would be a valuable contribution in many ways since no one is filling that space right now.

    But to do that, a publisher must provide quality content, as many of the comments above have noted. If it is going to just print “infomercials” for politicians and businesses, do some light features, contain press releases, and fill the space with classified, that is a competitive print arena in Cecil has a crowd of products and there’s a lot of competition for readers and advertisers.

    Perhaps Cecil Guardian will roll out a product that goes after those many untouched deeper stories. All I can do is look at what’s been done in the past and see what’s available right now, to begin forming my preliminary opinions on the subject. We’ll see, which business model they go after.

    I too would be very excited to see some quality journalism here, the type that diggs into the stories a little bit and asks a few challenging questions. A decade or two ago we had that with the Cecil Whig, especially back in the 1960s, 70s, & 80s. At least they were focused on covering their beat as much as resources permitted and they’d ask follow up questions.

    Not too long ago, I checked the Maryland Open Records Commission Act and found that the Kent County News (1/5 our population) had filed something like a dozen complaints about local government boards in Kent and the Aegis in Bel Air had a number too. But well over a decade the Whig had never found the need to file one. That causes one to wonder, what’s the variable there! The Kent Co News remains a paper that covers its beat very well, particularly in the political arena. They have a political reporter and he seems to all the required attributres such as being a little bit skeptical of what politicans tell you and checking statements. It makes for some interesting reading, which is one of the reasons I’m a subscriber to that paper. It has a value to me. And it’s also good for the community, for such things help keep things in balance.

    Anway it would be a nice contribution to Cecil County and I do think there a demand for at least some hard news here. The Whig’s editorial department knows how to do this stuff as they’ve demonstrated over the years and they’ve had fine jouranlists in there. The publishers need to get out of the way and let them report, while also providing the resources for those pros to cover their beats. That observation goes back beyond the current publishers for the decline in the Whig’s interest in real news has been going over for a longer period, as management cut back on resources and held reporters back.

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