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Save the Merc! Do any of you techies/VCs care?

Have you guys seen the "Save the Merc" campaign launched by employees of the San Jose Mercury News?

The newspaper has served Silicon Valley since long before the region's technology industry was born, but is now being sold. And it faces some possible bidders who lack dedication to quality journalism, so the journalists fear.

Employees are seeking a buyer who "values our work and is willing to match our long-standing commitment to quality journalism." The site also carries a list of community leaders who endorse the campaign, from Zoe Lofgren (Member, U.S. Congress) to Carl Guardino (President & CEO, Silicon Valley Leadership Group) -- in a statement, they say residents and workers need quality information to engage fully in civic life.

Former Merc columnist Dan Gillmor rips into the list of supporters so far, noting that it includes public officials, top educators and the heads of several major nonprofit and industry groups, but nobody from the more important Valley power structure, namely the technology crowd.

Where are the CEOs of major corporations, venture capitalists, investment bankers and the like. Where are the Web 2.0 and 1990s superstars -- the younger entrepreneurs, programmers, etc. who don't run big tech companies but who have massive credibility with the tech world's rank and file. Were I running this campaign, these are folks I'd pursue.
I hope this is an oversight that the Save the Merc team is trying to remedy. But perhaps their names are missing because the Merc has become almost irrelevant to them and to a younger generation that gets its information in ways other than by reading newspapers.

So, dear readers of SiliconBeat (as you may know, we the authors are employed by the Merc), we ask whether you read the Mercury News, and whether it is important to you? Or has it become irrelevant? Would you volunteer your name -- and, if possible, your affiliation -- as a supporter of the cause? If so, go to the bottom of this page, and submit your name.

Or, if not, feel free to chime in via comments below about why not.

See also Jay Rosen's lengthy analysis of the Merc's situation.

Here is the NYT story, to run in tomorrow's paper (registration required).

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Err, why would someone running a chip design company consider herself / himself qualified to make a go of a newspaper? You guys could go from the frying pan into the fire if that happened to you. You really need someone from the newspaper business.

Maybe Cnet or other local business.

DV Henkel-Wallace on March 20, 2006 5:30 AM
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Turn the Merc into a web-only publication. It will be the first paper to ever do so.

Wing Yu on March 20, 2006 7:13 AM
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I support saving the Merc, but only if it radically overhauls what it means to be a newspaper. It's not just that the Merc became irrelevant to me, it's that all print newspapers became irrelevant in the age of search engines, online news services, blogs, Craigslist, ebay, and wikis. While technology fueled a revolution in the service of giving people information they could use, newspapers still gave me dirty fingers.

Why can't I post an ad for free for that old monitor I want to get rid of on mercurynews.com or get hyperlinks to businesses and people listed in the news stories? Why is it that the online newspaper and the print newspaper are run by different groups? How about bringing people together with innovative event listing features? Better yet, how about cutting back the amount of AP wire stories for increased national and international coverage? All of these things would make me subscribe to the Merc again, but even then in online form only (I don't get a print WSJ anymore either).

I stopped reading the Merc a long time ago, but I read SB everyday and often check the frontpage of the online version for interesting headlines.

jeff nolan on March 20, 2006 7:49 AM
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This strikes me as a little like the "third rail" of our world -- talking about the future of print media in an online forum run by the very print business being discussed... But it is an important question that deserves a serious answer.

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am a strong supporter of a free and independent media. I am in the camp that believes that democracy is only possible when the society supports and protects a free flow of information and ideas. I am strongly influenced by thinkers such as Richard Rorty ("Take care of freedom and truth will take care of itself").

But I am troubled by the notion that the Mercury News needs to be "saved." What exactly does this mean? A review of the "save the merc" website does not clarify the situation. On this site I read:

"We are apprehensive that a buyer who does not understand our community and value the journalism that we provide will adopt what one Wall Street analyst termed a "scorched earth" policy. Under this scenario, substantial cost-cutting and smaller staffs would follow a sale. The impact on our community of readers and advertisers would be severe."

If the impact on the "community of readers and advertisers" was severe, then this business strategy of destroying the value inherent in the community coverage would be counter-productive to the goal of running a profitable business. Why would a buyer destroy the asset that he or she purchased?

In the "State of the Media 2006" - a report out from The Project for Excellence in Journalism (stateofthemedia.org) we learn that newspapers are reducing local coverage all over the country. Philadelphia, offered as emblematic, has half as many reporters (24) covering the local community than they had in 1980 (46). Some of this attrition might be attributed to increasing productivity, but clearly some of it is due to a reduced editorial budget which comes as a direct result of dropping readership and advertising.

So it is not unreasonable for the Mercury News staff to worry that their paper may get leaner in the years to come. Especially if the current trends continue and readership of print continues to decline. And especially if the print mode is the primary focus of their enterprise.

But as Silicon Beat itself has shown, there is a vibrant community of interest online for the kinds of local coverage (tech industry in this case) that journalists at what we have come to call big city newspapers can offer. So perhaps the real challenge for "saving" the San Jose Mercury News and other daily papers is to learn how the new online media can prove to be a generator of readership and advertising as the old media of print declines into our memories.

Change is hard. People have a lot of trouble with change. But somehow we live in a world of flush toilets, jet airplanes, and the Internet anyway.

Ted Shelton on March 20, 2006 7:49 AM
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I would support SiliconBeat and Good Morning Silicon Valley. These blogs do matter...

Dimitar Vesselinov on March 20, 2006 8:07 AM
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Wing Yu,

I hear you. One major problem the Merc faces is that it has a large group of readers, aged circa 35-85, who subscribe to the paper edition and will happily do so for the foreseeable future. And some of them will never go online. So the Merc doesn't want to write them off by abandoning print.

Matt Marshall on March 20, 2006 9:23 AM
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My very back-of-the-envelope calculation is that SiliconBeat.com's traffic could generate $175,000/yr in ad revenue. Probably less with just Google AdSense (I suspect this readership doesn't convert well), probably more with blogads, FM Pub or the like. (They of course could give you better estimates than I can.)

So, it appears that you've carved out a niche that could thrive on its own. As for the rest of the paper, I'm not local so I'll leave that to others.

Scott Lawton on March 20, 2006 10:00 AM
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I love the Merc. The principles of the organization and the people are sound. The problem is with the platform and the economics of a 'new reality'. That is why I raised money for PodTech. It's the same game but different conditions. Good content, good people, Fresh Voices, and integrity.

John Furrier on March 20, 2006 10:32 AM
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Sorry folks. No sympathy here. As far as I am concerned, pretty much all newspapers, including the Merc, can disappear and it wouldn't make that much of a difference to its readers. What's with self-pitying "save the merc" campaign? It's business, so live with it. Now you know what it means to go through unpalatable changes at work, you've been "reporting" them about the valley companies not really knowing what it really means...Good luck with your after life!

SimplyTired on March 20, 2006 11:30 AM
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I find it odd (and somewhat hypocritical) that Gillmore left The Merc to pursue greener pastures, yet scolds others (the owners) for wanting to do the same thing. Furthermore, the answer to the question "Do any of you techies/VCs care?" will be a resounding "no". Why? Because they've spent the last 3 years explaining to the world that newspapers are dinosaurs and that new forms of media, content, user-generated info, etc. are the wave of the future. Why would they change their mind?

Joe Weisenthal on March 20, 2006 1:24 PM
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I used to subscribe to the Chronicle but now get most of my news via the internet (SF Gate, Google News, Slashdot, NYTimes) and frankly, since a lot of what is printed in daily newspapers these days comes from wire services, there is little advantage to getting a print newspaper. Second, news happens all throughout the day and you get things much faster over the net, instead of waiting until the next day to see it in print. Lastly, the final nail in the coffin is when I pick up a newspaper, see a story I want to read on the front page, and get frustrated because I have to flip pages to get to the appropriate story rathern than just click a hyperlink. Seriously.

Reporters are still needed, just not writing for media less and less people are using. Just think about a different arena for your message. If you're a good writer, you'll get an audience. The middle man is really what is being eliminated.

Mr. K. on March 20, 2006 3:02 PM
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Perhaps, being web-only may be too drastic. But how about being web-centric? Focus all editorial resources on the web first. Let print supplement the web, not the other way around. This may not sound radical in another year or two.

In a few weeks, my company and I will be heading to Nexpo, which is the trade show for the newspaper industry. I'm predicting that you're going to see some "solutions" for the newspaper industry that can transform even the smallest rural papers into multimedia online hubs. Why shouldn't the Merc take the lead?

Wing Yu on March 20, 2006 7:37 PM
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I have not subscribed to the paper edition of the Merc for a long while, but I help them generate some ad revenues via the online edition/blogs;-)

I strongly and unequivocally support the Merc - it has given us Dan Gilmore and Matt Marshall and Herb Greenberg and Herb Caen... Um, wait, both the Herbs were from the other end of the bay;-) But if the bay area economy can support two major league teams in football and baseball, can't we support two great news organizations?

Seriously, I believe it is important to have an "institution" like the Merc to attract and support great journalists. And, I have no doubt that the economics will drive the Merc to evolve with the new realities of the valley.

Vipin Chawla on March 20, 2006 7:49 PM
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Ther Mercury-News is not a national newspaper. Any significant (i.e. Pulitzer-grade) investigative journalism it does is likely to be focused on corporate malfeasance in Silicon Valley, e.g. Carly Fiorina's shenanigans at HP.

Is it realistic to expect Silicon Valley executives to be anything but lukewarm about fighting changes that could threaten to dilute the paper's investigative capacity?

Fazal Majid on March 20, 2006 9:30 PM
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Guys, all of your comments have been spot on. Thanks, in general, for the underlying support for what the Merc has been trying to do in this community. Even SimplyTired, the cynic, I appreciate your send-off; while the humorous side of me cracks me up, the other side of me really identifies with the unpalatable changes you are talking about -- these tough times will make better reporters of us all, if nothing else! We have to relate to the community we cover.

Wing, on your second note about being Web-centric, I began arguing that internally here at the Merc over a year ago, and was met with mostly silence. A few reporters would nod their heads, but not the majority. I think the idea was too radical to contemplate at the time, but now the culture has changed. We're headed in that direction.

Matt Marshall on March 20, 2006 10:11 PM
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I'm disappointed to see most comment here does not value fine journalism. Yes paper distribution is inefficient and their business model is challenged. But it is an institution that collect and disseminate information, conduct in-depth investigation, provide a forum to voice different viewpoints and to moderate expression of opinions. As insightful as many blogs may seem I don't see they replace newspaper's role. I don't read Merc much but I read Chron daily (almost exclusively online). It is another troubled publication. I think it would be a big loss if its journalistic role get eroded.

Let me throw one worst-case scenario. A buyer seeking high profit margin decided to turn Merc into some kind of infotainment.

Having say that I'm also disappointed to see newspaper has evolved little. Why make sour grape comment like 'Craig Newark ate my lunch'? If a little bulletin board can do it, your should be able to do 10 times better. With some vision you could have become Yahoo, eBay and Google combined. Now you only have yourself to blame.

Wai Yip Tung on March 21, 2006 8:46 AM
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Matt - There's a class act, your response to my comments, if I ever saw one. Thanks!


SimplyTired on March 21, 2006 8:57 AM
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