Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Good news for the news (in Detroit)?

I'm about a week late on this, and I'm not in Michigan right now so I can't say I've taken the pulse of the people, but I'm curious how many are happy - or even noticed - that both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News were sold to new owners. Thus ends the Joint Operating Agreement between the two publications that weakened both papers and resulted in some of the most mediocre weekend editions you could ever read.

For a city of Detroit's size to have such an inferior news product is pretty embarrassing. Compare the Sunday combined Free Press-News to the Sunday Chicago Tribune or Boston Globe, not to mention the Washington Post and New York Times. Most weeks, the Detroit Sunday paper even looks inferior to smaller papers such as those in Ann Arbor, Des Moines, or Charleston, SC.

Of course, it's possible that Gannett Co. and MediaNews Group, the respective owners of the Free Press and News, will still publish dull newspapers in an effort to keep costs down. (The new News won't be publishing a Sunday edition, for one thing.) But with competition for readers and circulation again a factor between the two papers, there's at least the possibility of both trying to outdo each other, resulting in better news coverage. (This could also eventually mean the end of the Detroit News, which was in danger of going under and was probably saved by the J.O.A.)

I used to love reading the Free Press each morning. If I didn't get a chance to read the paper, I'd actually miss it. Now (especially after the Mitch Albom debacle), I can barely stand to read it. It'd be great to get excited about reading the newspaper again. (But maybe those days are over anyway, because of the internet. That's probably another blog for another time.)

▪ The News' Terry Foster is excited to have new bosses. If it gets him back in the paper more often, I'm excited for him.

▪ To me, the best news about this transaction might be that Carole Leigh Hutton is no longer editor and publisher of the Free Press. I'm not a person who thinks everyone should be fired every time they mess up at a job, but the way she coddled Albom was an embarrassment and surely alienated most of the paper's editorial staff.

▪ Maybe the new editors of the Detroit newspapers should read this "memo" by Hank Stuever, in which he criticizes his employer, the Washington Post, for "[overlistening] to people who never read the paper, and yet insist it include more about their neighborhoods, lives, and concerns."