It doesn’t look like San Diego’s free classified strategy worked

I have yet to hear of a newspaper improving its revenue or audience growth by offering free classified ads.

The San Diego Union-Tribune tried it int 2005.

Now the U-T is further trimming staff.

“Not since the merger of the Union and Tribune over 15 years ago have we faced such wrenching changes,” he (CEO Gene Bell) wrote. “At the same time, never in our history have we faced revenue losses as dramatic as those of the last 12 months.”

Observation: The U-T offered free classifieds  and that did not stem the tide of revenue loses.

I’m not trying to draw a direct connection, just saying … it didn’t help.

The only time I’ve ever heard of an MSM newspaper offering free classifieds and using it to win market share was in Arkansas when Walter Hussman took the Democrat from second-tier player into only game in town.

There might be a very scary lesson about the inability of a market leader’s inability to use disruptive strategy to beat other disruptive players.

What worked for Hussman to beat a bigger paper, may not work for a market leader like the leading metro in town to beat Craigslist and other free-classified sites.

If that’s true, then sustaining innovations (which most newspapers have been pursuing in the recruitment ad space for a decade) may be the only way to go.

Just thinking out loud.

San Diego staff good at getting it first, getting it right

Here’s a good piece on the success of’s break news team:

Team members confer with their editors frequently, but they often edit postings for each other, and they don’t wait for assignments or debate whether to head out for a promising story.

Karen Kucher, one of the original members of the team and an assistant editor, said, “Our default is supposed to be to go.”

And for those who think web-first publishing is somehow an affront to journalistic propriety:

Through its speedy postings, the team competes directly with TV, Baker said. “But we get it right, we don’t run stuff that’s not confirmed yet, and we don’t sensationalize it.”

Greg Gross, who’s been in this business more than 30 years, said of the team’s work, “There were all sorts of uncertainties on the mechanics and maybe the wisdom of it. That has all faded away with amazing speed.”

And some might be surprised to learn that not only does this approach help grow audience, it is also journalisticly satisfying.

Mallory said, “I’ve never experienced more gratitude from readers for anything we’ve done in journalism than for the simple postings on the news blog, three or four paragraphs at a time, of reliable, confirmed information, sortable by area.”

With this kind of breaking news, readers care more about the information than the prose. As Gross said, “I don’t feel as if I’m writing or reporting for the ages . . . and much to my surprise, I’m fine with that.”

Somebody should send this piece to the cranky copy editors, or whatever other forum is out there where newspaper people spit bile at web publishing.