Monday, May 30, 2016

'Tough-minded but fair' paper perseveres in face of online raiders that 'slow dance' with advertisers

As summer began, and New York City's attention turned to the Hamptons, The New York Times sent media reporter Jim Rutenberg to the South Fork of Long Island for a story on the East Hampton Star, a weekly newspaper that, he writes, is "luckier than most in its class. Many big real estate brokers still view its great big print spreads as a good way to market their huge Hamptons properties." The Star still uses the wide sheets favored by many Northeast newspapers.
"Craigslist does not have enough of a presence here to kill off the Star’s classified listings," Rutenberg continues. "Advertising has given the Star enough resources to start a new four-times-yearly glossy magazine, East, and enough juice to maintain the paper’s mission, which is to 'ask hard questions, not be afraid to make public officials angry'," Publisher David Rattray told him. "But new competitors like, owned by Vox Media, and Patch, not to mention Facebook, have exerted pressure. Circulation is down to a maximum of 12,000 from 16,000, though many tens of thousands more read it online," and “Our gross is about half of what it was at its peak” in 2006, Rattray said.

The Rattray family has owned the 131-year-old paper for 81 years. "Through the advent of the movie house, the radio, the television, glossy new magazines and now the Internet, The Star has continued to stand," Rutenberg writes. "And that’s a 131-year testament to the central role that family-owned, small-town newspapers can still play — even though, like its big-city brethren, it faces its worst, and possibly last, threat from the web."

Hamptons "roughly conterminous with the South Fork" --Wikipedia
Looking ahead to the summer, Rattray editorialized last week in favor of East Hampton's moves to curb “excesses of the summer bar and party scene,” which Rutenberg says "has been stoked by what longtime residents see as an invasion of club promoters and developers with sensibilities that can seem more Manhattan than Montauk, a hamlet with a proud blue-collar fishing tradition." Rattray told him, “Without a tough-minded but fair family-owned newspaper, the forces kind of arrayed against this place, the South Fork, would win. Maybe that’s arrogant to think, but it’s how I was raised.”

Rutenberg contrasts the Star with Whalebone, a local online magazine that "designs sponsors’ ads to run seamlessly, and openly, in the editorial content, such that a gorgeous spread of old Montauk fishing photos in the latest issue of the magazine is prominently 'presented by Chris Coleman with Saunders' real estate. Their young readers are unfazed by that sort of integration, they say. That’s good, because as traditional print advertising dwindles, media organizations everywhere have to come up with new ways to pay for their coverage. Yet newspapers like The Star can change only so much. Hard news missions preclude slow dancing with advertisers. With the more traditional model, Mr. Rattray says, 'I can only see out about 18 months.'"

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