Thursday, January 06, 2005

Where's the fish wrap when you need it?

When I joined the San Francisco Chronicle as city editor in 1984, the newspaper was squandering a significant portion of its promotional budget on a color front-page ad on the cover of Editor & Publisher, the weekly trade journal of the newspaper industry.

The Chron was not alone in blowing money on this preposterous ego trip. Many of the nation's foremost newspapers and chains were similarly throwing good money after bad in an effort to impress -- and this is the part I never understood -- other newspapers and publishers. Why? Was the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suddenly going to be persuaded to start advertising for readers in the San Francisco Chronicle?

The worst thing about the Chronicle ads was the ads themselves. "A Great Newspaper Is More Than Fish Wrap," screamed fat type plastered across the picture of a carp flopped on the cover my newspaper. Other variations featured the Chron lining trashcans, birdcages and potting tables.

In what I then thought was my greatest contribution to American journalism, I pestered the publisher into killing the campaign. He put the savings to good use, if memory serves, by replacing the leather in his vintage Benz.

Two decades later, a new article in Wired Magazine has me wondering whether I goofed.

In arguing that the demise of the newspaper industry is pending, the article says a principal reason people don't like newspapers is because they don't want them piling up around the house. What with garbage now collected in big, wheeled plastic tubs; fish being mongered in plastic packs, and movers bundling saucers in bubble-wrap, it's no wonder that people can't think of anything to do with a newspaper but read the darn thing.

It kind of makes you think the Chron was ahead of its time in being the first newspaper to promote the holistic use of the product.


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