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Hypergene MediaBlog » Dallas tabloid war leaves us shaking our heads
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Dallas tabloid war leaves us shaking our heads

It’s been a while since we’ve had a good old-fashioned newspaper battle. Years of mergers and acquisitions have left all but a few metro areas to be served by only one paper.

Even better, we can’t remember a time when the battle was not solely for bragging rights of the ever-elusive 18-34 aged audience.

That’s why we were intrigued to hear last week about the fresh tabloid war going on in Dallas between upstart A.M. Journal Express and Quick by The Dallas Morning News.

To an industry insider, this should be a good sign - evidence that the newspaper idea is still alive and kickin’. Yet, we can’t share such optimism. Here’s why:

The battle is not about better informing readers - it’s about money.

{Let us disclose that Shayne and I both worked at the Dallas Morning News and its parent company, Belo, some years back. We also helped form Belo Interactive with James Moroney III, which is responsible for running 34 news sites. As the dot-com bomb it, one of us was laid-off and the other eventually quit. Whew.}

At first glance, the spin from The Dallas Morning News was typical:

"Our mission at The Dallas Morning News is to continue to be the leading source for news and information in the greater Dallas area,” said Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO of The Dallas Morning News.  “For our advertisers, Quick is another opportunity to complement the mass reach of The Dallas Morning News with a product designed to target adults, 18-34.” Yahoo press release

So far, so good. However, in another story, Moroney said:

"The content (for Quick) is all wire and repurposed Dallas Morning News content,” he said. “It has a low staff cost.”

Moroney declined to give figures but said Dallas-based Belo’s investment in Quick was not significant. “We’re a large company, so we can afford it” from the Miami Herald

It appears such arrogance has bread contempt for Dallas readers.

When every trendline for your industry from circulation to gross revenue points downward for the past 30 years, your glory has faded. The fact that both of these tabloids are given away speaks volumes but is not a surprise. The darling of the youth-target tabloids, the Tribune’s Red Eye, still only sells 9,000 copies a day after its first year. Ouch.

There is no evidence 18-34 year-olds will ever read the newspaper regularly
More importantly, newspapers’ desire to build daily reading habits of the paper product is absurd. These people have already established their news gathering habits - online. These are Gen X and Gen Y’ers. The best anyone can hope to do is become a small part of their daily, fractionalized media fix.

That’s what the Web is for
You would think that a company that has 34 web sites would think about this first. Maybe they did but haven’t had a chance to rollout a complementary web strategy. We don’t know much about the A.M. Journal Express but at least they have a decent news site up and running.

The 18-34 aged group is the heaviest user of Internet (and radio). Any effort to win over that demographic needs to think across media and how the Web will play a central role.

Shoveling the same old content, the same old way to a disinterested audience seems like a decision devoid of smart business strategy.

Update: Eric Celeste of The Dallas Observer offers some of his classic perspective on how these papers could succeed. And he’s right, it’s all about a certain personality in the product that is missing.

Posted on Nov 15, 2003 | 1:37 am EST

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Belo’s “web strategy” seems to be not to be part of the web.  Because they lock themselves up and discourage casual readers, they’re all vulnerable to the nimble, web-only startups that will be the next wave.

Posted by: cowboy on Nov 25, 03 | 12:28 am EST

I’ve read both and Quick blows A.M. Journal Express away. A.M. came to my office first and I was turned off after just one issue, but I looked at a couple of more to be sure.

I was hooked on Quick after just one issue.

Posted by: Meryl on Jan 01, 04 | 6:06 pm EST


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