San Jose Mercury News: Paper Turns to a Little PR – and Pride – To Save Itself

Hell hath no fury like the heartfelt kvetches of ink-stained wretches.

Save The Merc, a web site published by employees of the San Jose Mercury News, is appealing to the local community for salvation, or at least support in their bid to save a “vital civic institution.” They want readers to sign a petition and are reprinting positive stories and quotes from third parties (thanks to Steve Rubel for the link.)

Sounds a lot like PR to me – and while it may not be enough to convince new owner McClatchy, it should convince those of us who still believe in newspapers that campaigns such as these are not about protecting the past, but rather about preserving the future. 

As the site makes clear, newspapers have faces. And some newspapers don’t only write about the fabric of community, they become part of the tapestry. They are not just papers but symbols, and to lose that is to lose more than something to read with your morning coffee.

The employees are not against the sale per se – they just want to be sure the new owner looks at the big picure and not solely the bottom line (which by the way, is still profitable.)

“We believe that newspapers should make money for their owners and investors; the Mercury News does,” the site says. “But we believe the purchase of our newspaper company must not damage our newspaper’s long-term responsibility to the community we serve. We believe that newspaper owners must balance their expectations for profits with their civic obligation to provide robust news coverage.

“Our industry faces challenges. The means of communicating with readers are changing rapidly. We would welcome an owner who understands the opportunities of the Internet and the challenges it poses for newsprint, and is willing to make long-term investments in personnel and in new technologies.”

Will other McClatchy orphans like The Philadelphia Inquirer try a similar tact to save their papers, possibly their jobs? Moreover, will any of it matter, or will efforts like Save The Merc become footnotes once the final chapter in modern newspaper history is written?

Whatever the outcome, one thing is clear: The San Jose Mercury News is not going down without a fight. And as news consumers who believe in community journalism in all forms, neither should we.

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