"Get published!" begs Muncie Star Press. Unless, of course, you happen to be a competitor

Dateline: Wed 10 Jan 2007

The online front page of the Muncie Star Press, a Gannett newspaper, has this seductive come-on to readers: "Get published!" The tease is all part of the newspaper's overreaching and pathetically transparent "Your Neighbor" feature. You know, a nice, friendly pitch to readers to become reporters and photographers, at no cost to the paper.

"Share stories from your community," ballyhoos the breathless "Get published!" blurb.

"Announce your business, brag about your dog, review your school play. Whatever you have to share, GetPublished! is your place to do it."

Taking his former employers at their word, online publisher/editor and entrepreneur K. Paul Mallasch of the Muncie Free Press tried to get a mention of his business endeavor in the feature. He covers East Central Indiana online, working from press releases and other news sources to bring news and advertising free to Hoosiers. He also has several other online projects in the works.

Oops, bad move. K. Paul was told by a Star Press editor that "Get Published!" is going to "be selective" about businesses. "I don't think it's newsworthy to promote your businesses," said the paper's online community editor, Phil Beebe, in an email to K. Paul.

The 34-year-old citizen journalist, who lost his job with Gannett in May 2005, after working at the Star Press seven years -- and creating programming that allowed the paper to go online quickly and efficiently -- is philosophical about the whole thing.

"I pretty much brought them out of the 'dark ages' in the late

1990s, helped them grow revenue in online and then was 'let go.' I still think it was the best thing that ever happened to me, though."

Still, he's entertaining a public debate about the "Get Published!" process -- what it means that the local newspaper won't give him the time of day.

"I've asked (now and before) why they don't think I'm newsworthy (everything I learned at BSU's Journalism Department says otherwise), but I haven't had a response. I doubt I'll get one either. It appears this new feature at The Star Press is open to the citizens of East Central Indiana - as long as you aren't a competitor and don't cut into the bottom-line - i.e. their ad sales."

For the record, this exactly the sort of petty bullshit attitude that is killing newspapers faster than you can say "EXTRA! EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT!!!"

I'll post a separate story on this, but the current Vanity Fair magazine has a terrific article by Michael Wolff on the trend of billionaires to consider buying newspapers (there's still a little juice left before the newspapers' clocks stop ticking, and billionaires have big egos. Besides, most of the billionaires are old guys, which is who is reading today's daily paper).

One of my favorite points made by Wolff: today's publishers and top editors are as grey and dull and lifeless as they come. They might as well be running public utilities, which in a sense they are. As the color and spark drain out of the print dailies, the cheeky onliners -- like K. Paul -- represent a potential threat. Especially to an organization like Gannett, which, as Wolff says, is known for its "cut and gut" policies, and has left plenty of journalist bodies in its wake. Including K.Paul Mallasch.

So cut and gut away, G-men. Meantime, K. Paul, and the rest of us online brats, are having a ball. Some, like K. Paul, are even making money doing it. No wonder Gannett won't give him the time of day. But does he need Gannett to have a life and a career? No. And neither do readers.

comments: ruth@ruthholladay.com

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