Austin Has The Chronic

Well this is a rare treat. David Carr of The New York Times examines The Austin Chronicle and the men who run it and comes up with a glowing report on the paper’s health.

The Austin Chronicle, a weekly newspaper as funky and idiosyncratic as the town it covers, continues to thrive with a relentlessly local news agenda — state government, the school board and the City Council, along with deep coverage of the arts — and a willingness to lead, as opposed to simply criticize, in artistic matters.
At a time when daily newspapers seem to be going away at the rate of one a week and weeklies are madly cutting to stay afloat, The Chronicle, which has revenue of approximately $8.5 million a year, has not laid off anyone, has no plans to do so, and its business is off just 7 percent in the last three years.

Carr outlines the central theme in the paper’s success–its deep commitment to local, local, local.

The Chronicle is knit into civic and cultural life in Austin to a degree that may make other newspapers nervous. While other regional news outlets do house ads and commercials about their connection to the community, The Chronicle started the South by Southwest conference, its founders have helped finance local filmmakers, and when you step off the airplane and see a huge bookstore branded with The Chronicle’s name, it’s clear that the weekly plays big for its size.

I was talking to a community activist the other day at Crema in SE Portland. He commented on how bad The Oregonian is. Not surprisingly, Portland’s big daily newspaper is not locally owned. I asked my new friend about The Portland Mercury and The Williamette Week. It seems our alt press is not held in the highest regard either (I know it’s a survey of one, but I’ve heard similar criticisms before).
This brings me back to my increasing fascination with hyperlocal content and those developing businesses in this sector. We know now that one or two highly motivated Web-enabled citizens (with the help of their friends and the community) can deliver an entire section of the dead tree newspaper, faster and better for free to people on the move. Case in point: PDX Pipeline.
Julian Chadwick’s site has fast become the source for upcoming entertainment and cultural happenings in Portland. I wonder if anyone at The Oregonian or the two alt weeklies even has his site on their radar.
I see a lot of room for developers like Julian (and Shawn and me) to parter partner with mainstream and alt media. The New York Times has set the precedent for these kind of content partnerships by running blocks of stories from GigaOm, ReadWriteWeb and other “blogs.” On the other hand, many bloggers may do better on their own. Whatever the case, digital media has parted the sea and now it’s every media entrepreneur for themselves.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. What is parter? That is a good example why “dead tree” journalism is still relevant. They employ people called copy editors and fact checkers and the like. That doesn’t prevent all typos, of course, but it does have a value. And, I disagree that anyone can do anything “for free.” There is always a price, even if the provider is being subsidized to deliver.
    I don’t work for the Oregonian, but to simply repeat one person’s complaint about “how bad” the Oregonian is strikes me as silly at least. In what way? What are it’s shortcomings? Your parenthetical addendum that “I’ve heard similar criticisms before” doesn’t excuse the lack of detail about what is wrong.

  2. Thanks for the copy edit, Mark. I’ll take whatever help I can get! You might note that I outsourced the copy edit function to you, and you gladly provided a service for free, but we can leave all that for another day if you’d like.
    As for The Oregonian, I’ll pursue the complaint more thoroughly and then report back.

  3. For some, the problem seems to be a political one.
    See this Mercury story on a recent reader’s revolt.

  4. You’re welcome for the edit, but it’s not free. Invoice is in the mail.
    As for the Oregonian, their problems are the same as every newspaper’s problems: business model failure. That shows up in weaker reporting, less coverage and all the other ills that we see with virtually every other newspaper.
    Locally, it’s nice to have Willamette Week, which has scooped the “O” more than once. However, it’s dependence on personal ads for revenue will endanger it much as classified ad atomization has threatened the Oregonian. Portland without one, the other or both papers is not going to be a good place. I would wish that new media can fill the void when this happens, but the current signs are not encouraging

  5. @Mark: What is “it’s dependence”? No charge for the edit.

  6. I put this web page together a while ago which detailed some of the issues I have with the Snoregonnian.