Broadcasting and Cable‘s Cover Story Completely Misses Point

B&C’s cover story today explores how TV stations have begun to fill the void left when newspapers fold, cut back on printing, or go online-only. It’s a great read and isn’t entirely adulatory (check out the section about how broadcast hasn’t figured out how to handle the TV equivalent of a 3,000-word investigative piece), but the lead, about how WJBK in Detroit landed 5,000 subscribers to a new e-mail newsletter, totally 100% misses the point.

On March 9, a full three weeks before the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News went from daily delivery to delivering a few days a week, the Fox O&O sent out its inaugural “My Fox Morning News” e-newsletter—a 6 a.m. online blast of news, weather and traffic in the No. 11 DMA.

A month after launch, the free newsletter featured ads from Chevrolet, a local hospital and a tire retailer. WJBK VP/General Manager Jeff Murri says subscribers number around 5,000, and the base is growing significantly every day. “It’s an easy way for former newspaper readers to get their morning news,” says Murri, who also reports a 20% boost in morning news ratings since the papers scaled back distribution. “Clearly these people are looking for alternative sources of information.”

Hooray for WJBK, but subsidizing a free news product through advertising? Is this going to save anyone’s job? I’m sure the newspaper is compiled by an intern or desk assistant, so hooray, one person gets to keep their job when the news business implodes further.

It seems to us that the station here is filling the newspapers’ gaps better than maybe anyone would have thought as it’s making the exact same mistakes the paper did. No, you can’t just throw up a pay wall around everything and call it a day, but is it really a good idea to launch a new product with the old, broken business model? WJBK, you’re not just slapping a bandaid on a cancer patient, you’re ripping the bandage off the patient in the next bed over—because it obviously didn’t work for them—and trying it on yourself. Eew, used bandages.