I’ve never seen anything like it before

The Issaquah Press and Sammamish Review have a new general manager and new editor. The Jan. 7 issues have full, front page pleas for people to voluntarily pay subscriptions. The whole thingSamRev smacks of dying newspapers.

This may well be true. The diminishing size of the papers and the sparse advertising were clear signs of struggling papers. But the full, front page pleas? I’ve never seen anything like it. And my first full time job, at age 19, was with a community paper, The Wheaton Daily Journal in Wheaton (IL). The paper no longer exists, given up long, long ago.

But I’ve been in journalism for most of my professional career. I started two international aviation magazines, sold them, and started an paywall/freewall aviation blog, which is my full time profession with its companion consulting business. Sammamish Comment is a past time, a community service, really, started because the Sammamish Review and, later, Sammamish Reporter really don’t do a very good job of covering Sammamish on critical issues. See here for details. Last year, The Comment had record readership.

Having successfully created three money-making publications, including one that is entirely on the Internet, I think I know a thing or two about what makes a successful news outlet.

It’s called giving readers something worth reading.

Neither Sammamish Review nor the Sammamish Reporter excel in this regard. Both do the requisite stuff: basic coverage of City Hall, sports and such. On balance, I think the Sammamish Reporter does a better job of covering Sammamish City Hall than does The Review. News appears quicker on The Reporter’s website than it does on The Review and, such as it is, The Reporter tends to be a bit more edgy than The Review. But tackling the real, hard issues–and avoiding getting sucked in by City Hall–is not something either paper does, or does well on the very rare occasions more than “sunshine” news is reported.

I recognize that each paper shares its coverage and staff with Issaquah. Tom Corrigan, who covers this city for the Issaquah Press in addition to his reporting of Sammamish, did really fine work covering the issues at the Issaquah Senior Center. But there have been plenty of issues right here in River City that needed coverage–and it really only appeared in Sammamish Comment. I frankly attribute the lack of coverage here as a problem that goes above the reporters.

The Sammamish Review’s former editor last year would not approve the expense for coverage of the City Council’s retreat in Rosyln, over the mountains, at the Suncadia Lodge. The Reporter didn’t cover the retreat, either. But The Sammamish Comment did, sometimes posting even as the meeting was underway. The only coverage that wasn’t a hand-out from the City of the retreat, where priorities for the year are set, came from The Comment.

This year the retreat is in Tacoma. The drive there isn’t easy in rush hour, but barring a climate event, there is no snow. Will The Review and The Reporter be there? Frankly, I have my doubts. But The Comment will be.

The current issue of The Review has a write-up of the start of hearings for the appeal of the permit of the East Lake Sammamish Trail. It’s clear reliance on City and County spokesmen is the basis for the story. This is only one of the most controversial issues in Sammamish and it has regional significance. But The Review wasn’t at the hearing. Neither was The Reporter. Why not? It’s just a 15 minute drive from Issaquah.

Over the course of the last year, The Sammamish Comment provided ground-breaking coverage of the ELST on a number of levels. Sometimes the local papers followed up and sometimes they didn’t–but Sammamish Comment was first.

The Comment had better election coverage than either paper, including the bitter charges and back-biting maneuvering going on. It’s a relief to now see the new Council start off with unanimous votes on leadership and a major, major shift in how public comment is handled, heralding a new era. The Tuesday Council meeting happens after The Review’s deadline, so there’s nothing in the print edition about this; it wasn’t too late for the Sammamish Reporter, but there is nothing in the on-line edition about this.

Neither paper does well by the City on its Editorial page. Under the former editor, Editorials were largely confined to “motherhood and apple pie” issues: don’t leave your dog in a hot car (twice); the state should fund education, etc. In the course of one year, there were just two Sammamish-oriented Editorials, one of which could have been written by the City’s Communications Manager–it was that gushy about the City.

Neither paper made endorsements in the Council election. The Reporter excused its non-action by saying this provided objective news coverage as a result.

Really…. Editorial pages are supposed to take positions. That’s what newspapers are about. The Reporter’s excuse was pure cop-out. The Review’s editor was just leaving and a new one hadn’t been named, so there was some basis for an excuse not to do endorsements. On the other hand, the former editor’s lack of localized editorials speaks for itself.

The Sammamish Review at one time chose to publish a 500 word column by one of the reporters about Bruce Jenner’s transition to a woman–while letters to the editor were in the queue about the election. This decision falls into the What-are-they-thinking category (actually what I was thinking was more along the lines of WTF?).

Memo to the GM and Editor: If you want people to subscribe, give them news they want to read. Give them editorials that are localized on issues that matter.

Memo to both papers: You pay your staff to cover Sammamish, but the coverage is superficial and with glaring gaps. (I do The Sammamish Comment in my spare time, for free.)

And if you want revenue, don’t give away the good stuff free.

Memo to Sammamish Review and Issaquah Press: Follow your parent, The Seattle Times. It follows a business model of paid subscriber/limited freewall access to stories on the Internet.

I already pay for the Issaquah Press/Sammamish Review and have for years. It’s all of $24/yr (or something like that) and I view it largely as charity because I can read both publications free on-line (and often do).

Forget these front page pleas for charity. Start charging for the papers, period, both in print and on-line–with limited freewall for the latter. Give us stories worth reading, stories that go beyond hand-outs from City Hall. Give us Editorials that matter.

Your current business model isn’t going to succeed.

By Scott Hamilton

 

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5 Responses to I’ve never seen anything like it before

  1. Bob Holt says:

    That’s why I subscribe to the Comment. I’ve learned more about what is going on in Sammamish in the last six months that I think I have in the last 10 years. You’re doing a great job.

    • I agree with Bob’s comment. The longterm answer is clear, Scott – – – turn Sammamish Comment into a new pay-to-read community weekly. I will be your first paid subscriber.

    • Agreed as well. I learn much more from reading this publication than I do from either of the local newspapers. I always come away from The Comment with the sense that I got the inside scoop, which is something I don’t think I could get anywhere else.

      Also it’s great that The Comment provides actual opinions with well thought-out reasoning to back them up.

  2. Jill says:

    I too subscribe to the Sammamish Review but have not found it very informative. Lately, I find them stacking up & then I do a power read. Nonetheless, I do want to support my local newspaper.

    As mentioned above, I have found Sammamish Comment to be my go to source of information. I know it can be biased but it is based on fact & allows me to form my own opinion. I would be happy to pay for the service Scott provides.

    There have been times where there is breaking news but we don’t hear anything about it. I have to comb through local Facebook pages to see what’s up. During the election, it was quite difficult to get a column posted in the comment section.

    Thanks for your time & interest in our city!

    • cityhamilton says:

      Just to be clear for everyone, I am not even thinking about a pay service. Sammamish Comment is done in my spare time and a pay service would require a solid commitment on my part to provide a consistent stream of reporting, which I don’t have time to do. I’m also more interested in looking at issues that the local papers don’t or won’t, rather than routine meeting and sports coverage.

      The support expressed for the potential of pay subscription for The Comment is very nice, but it will remain free reading.

      Scott

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