June 30, 2005 - Issue: Vol. 151, No. 90 — Daily Edition109th Congress (2005 - 2006) - 1st Session
NATIONAL RECOGNITION FOR THE LAWRENCE JOURNAL-WORLD; Congressional Record Vol. 151, No. 90
(Extensions of Remarks - June 30, 2005)
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[Extensions of Remarks] [Pages E1407-E1409] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] NATIONAL RECOGNITION FOR THE LAWRENCE JOURNAL-WORLD ______ HON. DENNIS MOORE of kansas in the house of representatives Wednesday, June 29, 2005 Mr. MOORE of Kansas. Mr. Speaker, last Sunday's edition of the New York Times carried a lengthy analysis of the recent service expansions into new media delivery outlets [[Page E1408]] undertaken by the Lawrence Journal-World, a daily newspaper published in my congressional district. The Lawrence Journal-World, long owned and managed by the Simons family, epitomizes locally based newspaper publishing in America. While many Kansas papers in neighboring communities have been purchased and reworked by out-of-state media conglomerates, the Journal-World has remained independent, feisty, and unique. While I have not always agreed with the conclusions advocated by the paper's management in its editorial columns, I respect the Simons' family's commitment to the strength of the Lawrence community, the advancement of the University of Kansas, and the independence of a free and activist press in the United States. I commend the New York Times' coverage of the Journal- World to my colleagues, Mr. Speaker, and I hope it presents a model that other newspaper publishers nationwide will seek to follow. [From the New York Times, June 26, 2005] The Newspaper of the Future (By Timothy L. O'Brien) Every Little League player in this town of about 85,000 people can be a star. Regardless of how he or she hits or fields, each tyke and teenager is eligible for a personalized electronic trading card--replete with a picture, biography, statistics and an audio clip of the player philosophizing about the game--that can be posted on the Web site of the local newspaper, The Lawrence Journal-World. Lawrencians buying tickets for University of Kansas football games can visit the same site, LJWorld.com, and find photographs offering sightlines from each of Memorial Stadium's 50,000 seats. Law aficionados can find transcripts of locally significant court cases posted on the site and participate in live, online chats debating the pros or cons of some cases--sometimes with experts who are involved in the proceedings. A related Web site, lawrence.com, is aimed at college readers. It allows visitors to download tunes from the Wakarusa Music Festival, find spirited reviews of local bars and restaurants and plunge into a vast trove of blogs, including the Gay Kansan in China Blogger, who recently had his first ``disgusting'' experience with a woman, to the Born Again Christian Blogger, who offers videotaped huzzahs to the Nascar legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. The steward of this online smorgasbord is Dolph C. Simons Jr., a politically conservative, 75-year-old who corresponds via a vintage Royal typewriter and red grease pencil while eschewing e-mail and personal computers. ``I don't think of us as being in the newspaper business,'' said Mr. Simons, the editor and publisher of The Journal-World and the chairman of the World Company, the newspaper's parent. ``Information is our business and we're trying to provide information, in one form or another, however the consumer wants it and wherever the consumer wants it, in the most complete and useful way possible.'' Owned by the Simons family since 1891, The Journal-World is a small-town paper emphasizing small-town news, but it is hardly restrained by a small-town mentality. Indeed, at a time when newspapers big and small are facing financial and journalistic crossroads, media analysts say The Journal- World, with a circulation of just 20,000, offers guidelines for moving forward. The Simons family, through the World Company, enjoys an unfettered and often criticized media monopoly in Lawrence. But the family has used that advantage to cross pollinate its properties, ranging from cable to telephone service to newspaper and online publishing, and to take technological and financial risks that other owners might have avoided. Mr. Simons and his associates describe their overall goals as a shared belief in quality, a deep attachment to Lawrence as a community and a constant reinvention of their business's relationship with readers, viewers and advertisers. ``We believe that journalism has been a monologue for so long and now is the perfect time for it to become a dialogue with our readers,'' said Rob Curley, 34, the World Company's director of new media. ``We want readers to think of this as their paper, not our paper.'' Lawrence has a long history as an independent, contrarian town. Founded in 1854 by New England abolitionists, it became one of the most violent, bloody battlegrounds in the slavery debate and was burned to the ground by pro-slavery raiders in 1861. The University of Kansas opened its doors here just after the Civil War; women made up almost half of its first class. Haskell Indian Nations University, a college for Native Americans, opened here in 1884. After Mr. Simons's grandfather arrived in town more than a century ago, he bought the local paper for $50. Today, Lawrence is a regional anomaly, anchoring a Democratic county in a solidly Republican state. Its large student population brings spunk to Lawrence, the university adds academic sophistication and sports fanaticism, and the town, dotted with funky restaurants and boutiques, has become a favorite of artists and activists. Lawrence is also peppered with tidy, attractive homes and schools that draw middle- and upper-class families headed by professionals who commute to work in Topeka and Kansas City. ``It's a real town with a real soul where people like to get involved,'' said Paul Carttar, a Lawrence native who is executive vice chancellor for external affairs at the University of Kansas. ``People here care about what Lawrence will become.'' Mr. Simons says his family takes its Lawrence roots seriously. ``My dad told me that if you take care of Lawrence, Lawrence will take care of you,'' he said. To that end, Mr. Simons has been an aggressive consolidator of local news and information services while resisting what he described as repeated offers over the years from larger companies wanting to buy him out. He has also been an early adopter of new technologies. The World Company began laying cable in 1968 and offered cable programming to residents in 1971, paying for the expansion with profits from The Journal- World--long before most larger media companies would embrace cable. Today, about 80 percent of homes in Lawrence have cable connections. The Journal World began publishing on the Internet in 1995, the same year that Sunflower, the broadband subsidiary of the World Company, first offered cable modems to customers. In 1999, the newspaper and its television station began sharing talent, using reporters to write for The Journal-World and appear on the company's news stations. ``We're not afraid to jump outside of the box, and that's because of who our owners are,'' said Patrick Knorr, 32, Sunflower's general manager, who also oversees strategic planning for the World Company. ``They're determined not to lose because they were asleep at the switch.'' Mr. Knorr said that World, which employs a total of about 600 people, did not try to offer new content to broadband subscribers until it had solid relationships with its customers and a robust pipeline through which it could pump media offerings. ``Content is absolutely critical and king,'' Mr. Knorr said. ``But consumers have more power than ever over who gets crowned.'' On a sweltering midsummer morning in 2001, Mr. Simons convened most of his media staff in the basement of a handsomely restored former post office at the comer of New Hampshire and Seventh Streets. The building was World's new ``converged news center,'' where the company's television, newspaper and online staffs would all be housed. Mr. Simons told his editors and reporters that they were going to do more than merely work shoulder to shoulder; they were going to share reporting assignments, tasks and scoops-- whether they liked it or not. Many did not like it at all, and some World reporters say they sometimes still feel taken advantage of--when they are asked to squeeze multiple print, television and online duties into the course of a single day. Print reporters and their editors have, at times, been reluctant to share scoops or ideas with their television counterparts, and vice versa. But many reporters also said that, over time, they have adapted. ``You can really teeter on the edge of, `I'm not enjoying this and it's not fair,' to, `This is one of the coolest things I've ever done,'' said Deanna Richards, a television reporter who works in World's converged newsroom. The company currently has 81 news employees, an unusually large number for an operation of its size. In 1993, Mr. Simons recruited Bill Snead, an award-winning photographer from The Washington Post, to oversee the Journal-World newsroom. Now a senior editor, Mr. Snead, 67, has written, photographed and shot video for feature assignments on topics such as farm strife, cheerleaders and cowboys. He said that while he had never shot video before arriving at The Journal-World, he had no trouble adapting. ``Technology is our servant; it's our valet; it gets our stuff out there--but it's still about the content,'' he said, adding that his company's online and cable properties have helped to forge a closer relationship with readers. ``If you show people respect and don't treat them like a novelty, you'll have free rein. That's what we're doing here.'' For as ambitious and creative as the Journal-World team is, the newspaper still offers a menu of stories that is relentlessly, sometimes numbingly, local. Weather, local trials, local sports and other local comings and goings dominate. Some critics say that controversial topics, like divisive land-use debates, are soft-pedaled in the paper's pages. ``They control the dialogue on local news,'' said Charles Goff III, 46, a political activist and artist in Lawrence. ``Every viewpoint goes through their filter and is tied to the Chamber of Commerce and the moneyed elite.'' Mr. Goff conceded, however, that he was unaware of the depth of offerings on the Web site of The Journal-World. He also said that while he felt that the paper's editorial and opinion pages were staunchly and unsparingly conservative, he thought that the news pages usually offered more balanced viewpoints. Mr. Simons and his news staff vehemently deny that controversial topics are sidestepped. And while some residents bemoan The Journal-World's local navel-gazing, those overseeing the publication are unapologetic and enthusiastic examiners of all things Lawrence. ``When the space shuttle blew up, we didn't have it on our home page; when the war in Iraq started, we didn't have it on our home page,'' Mr. Curley said. ``It's focusing entirely on local stories that we think made our Web traffic go crazy.'' [[Page E1409]] Mr. Simons recruited Mr. Curley to the World Company three years ago, when The Journal-World's Web site snared about 500,000 page views a month. Mr. Curley says the number is now about seven million. The company said its online operation was losing about $15,000 a month when Mr. Curley arrived; it expects the online business to become profitable this year. Ralph Gage, World's chief operating officer, is a no- nonsense taskmaster whom Mr. Simons deputized to make sure the company's trains ran on time. Online revenue comprises only about 1.5 percent of World's total revenue, he said, while the bulk comes from broadband, at 53 percent, and the newspaper operation, at 37 percent. But Mr. Gage says the company expects newspaper revenue to slacken over time, with online ventures eventually being a much more significant source of sales. For that reason, World has been willing to use its broadband funds to underwrite its online ventures until the online profits become more meaningful, probably by the end of the decade. According to a recent survey by Nielsen/NetRatings, newspaper Web sites nationwide had a 12 percent increase in unique visitors from May 2004 to May 2005, with a significant portion of readers aged 35 to 44 switching from a newspaper to the same paper's Web edition for their daily read. ``Newspaper circulation has been tanking since the 60's and now we're finally growing our audience online, so when I hear people complain about having to give their content away for free on the Internet I think they just don't get it,'' Mr. Curley said. ``I'm a capitalist, and I respect people who want to make a ton of money, but, dude, I'm a journalist and I want to build cool things.'' Of course, building cool things simply for the sake of building cool things suffered a notable national flameout during the dot-com bust. But through the newspaper Web site and lawrence.com, Lawrence comes alive in a fashion rare for a town of its size. (Lawrence.com is also published as a print weekly.) The town, once home to the poet Langston Hughes and the novelist William S. Burroughs, has a rich literary tradition. Journalists at World are assembling a lushly embroidered Web site devoted to Mr. Burroughs that includes rare letters, photographs and other archival material. During a local election, a list of questions reporters had asked of all candidates as part of a voter's guide were posted online. That allowed voters to answer the same questions themselves. Then they could use an online tool to find the candidates whose answers most closely matched their own--an example of civic journalism on steroids. The paper also routinely files local freedom-of-information requests and uploads piles of public records to its Web site. In 2003, World installed about 30 wireless hot spots around Lawrence. That same year, it began sending daily content to cellphones. For example, subscribers can have real-time scores and statistics from the University of Kansas's football and basketball games delivered on demand. The company has begun offering daily ``podcasts'' of news and other information to Apple iPod owners or anyone else carrying an MP3 player. It plans to offer a service that automatically loads information onto a docked MP3 player in the early-morning hours before students head to school. About a third of the 18 employees in the online operation are interns, and their presence allows Mr. Curley to have data, video, photos and other material collected and uploaded at little cost, a process he grinningly refers to as ``internology.'' ``People come here from thousands of miles away expecting to see something very high tech and expensive, but a lot of what we do we do on the cheap,'' Mr. Curley said. ``So it just amazes me when people say they can't do what we do because they don't have the resources.'' Still, it is financial resources, not content, that is behind the handwringing in newspaper circles everywhere. While print advertising stagnates or slips, it is not yet being replaced in a meaningful way by online advertising revenue--especially at companies that lack a source of bridge financing like World's broadband operation. Although journalists may cringe to hear it, the near-term battle for corporate survival is likely to be waged and won primarily by inventive business and advertising teams at media companies. The World Company's advertising staff said that its sales force had embraced convergence enthusiastically and that offering customers multiple advertising platforms--on TV, on the Internet and in print--has become a strong pitch. But the company is still finding it difficult to persuade readers to interact with online display ads. And, while willing to adapt to news advertising demands, the company refuses to turn its Web site into an advertising billboard, believing that the clutter would undermine the quality and integrity of its journalism. ``I think as we've converged the content we're going to converge the advertising,'' said Dan Simons, president of the company's broadband operations and a son of the chairman. ``I think you'll have to adapt to how buyers want to convey their messages so we're not just sellers of space and time. We have to be both advertisers and public relations advisers so we can help companies create their messages.'' As effervescent as the new media are in Lawrence, analysts balk at making grand extrapolations from World's efforts. ``It's a market dominated by one company so you have to be very careful when holding them up as a paragon,'' said Howard Finberg, director of interactive learning at the Poynter Institute, which operates a Web site devoted to journalism. ``Are they creative? Without a doubt, but I'm cautious about it being seen as a single solution or a model.'' Others are more laudatory but equally cautious about Lawrence's online innovations. ``Nobody else is close to doing what they've done,'' said David Card, a new-media analyst at Jupiter Research. ``But you also wouldn't necessarily be able to duplicate what they're doing in towns like San Francisco or New York.'' Dolph Simons, who writes a cantankerous Saturday column that draws barbs from Lawrence's liberals, is a gentle, self- effacing man who still serves Thanksgiving turkey to his newsroom employees. He says he considers himself a ``little fish in a big pond'' and is reluctant to be seen as a know- it-all by colleagues and competitors in the news business. Even so, his opinion about the future of the news business is clear. ``I'm terribly concerned about readership in the country and I think we all have to learn new things as fast as we can. Otherwise other people are going to beat us to it,'' he said. ``We need to be driving with our brights, because if we're driving with our dims somebody's going to come in from the side of the road and knock us off.'' ____________________