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

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. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.