Daily Progress HQ on the Market

Media General is selling the Daily Progress‘ offices, predictably enough. Though the property assessed at $4M a year ago, the utter collapse of the real estate industry has probably reduced significantly the value of the building. This may, in retrospect, look like the absolute worst time to try to unload 29,000 square feet of commercial space. The fact that they’re doing it now speaks to how hard up that Media General must be for an infusion of cash.

Though it’s possible that this could be a really great opportunity for the paper to become decentralized and nimble (as one former employee pointed out in July), it seems more likely that this will mark the beginning of a painful slide for the paper. With the slim publication consisting of more and more wire stories, printed in Richmond, and owned by a Richmond-headquartered media conglomerate, it’s tough to see the Progress as a local paper anymore. If the value of advertising continues to slide, the economy stays in the tank, and the format in which news is delivered continues to change (witness Detroit’s dailies curtailing of home delivery and the Christian Science Monitor going weekly and web-based), it’s possible that Charlottesville will prove too small of a market to support a daily newspaper. What happens then is anybody’s guess.

37 thoughts on “Daily Progress HQ on the Market”

  1. Newspapers here are utterly formulaic and predictable. The wire services like AP, UPI, AFP, Reuters, etc are a cancer.

    The best contrast I can come up with is the diff between reading a good obit in England’s Telegraph vs. the obit of a similar figure in a US newspaper. Theirs are delicious and captivating. Ours are staid and boring.

    Papers here desperately need new blood w/ new thinking. Throw the bums out.

  2. FWIW, I think this is kind of an exciting time for the Progress, or, rather, it could be if Media General gives them a little freedom. It’s crunch time, precisely when the paper should be given the ability to redefine who they are, who their market is, what their mission is, and how to go about fulfilling it. If everything’s on the table, that could be a real adventure. OTOH, if Media General keeps their hands tied, it could be a hugely grim task, something akin to riding the Titanic to the bottom of the Atlantic.

  3. At first I thought this was an announcement that the business was for sale, but unfortunately it is only the building. The best hope for the DP is local ownership.

  4. It would be awesome if the Worrells stepped in come 2010 or thereabouts. Once the value of the Progress has sunk so low that they can get it at a bargain-basement price. The future of local print media may be in wealthy community groups running them each as a non-profit.

  5. We cancelled our subscription a few years ago and haven’t looked back since. Impressively, they’ve become even less relevant since. I mean, backing Gilmore? Even most of the Republicans I know didn’t do that.

    I second the Worrell idea. Let the paper crash and burn so someone can go in, buy the wreckage and turn it into something valuable.

  6. As I do a little new year house cleaning here, I keep chewing over the idea of the Progress as a community good, as newspapers used to regard themselves and be regarded (or so I understand). That’s a pretty exciting possibility. As a non-profit, I know I’d volunteer my time to get their technology up to snuff (if they’d have me), something that I’m not about to do for Media General. If it’s something that the community owns collectively (hell, I’d buy $1,000 worth of shares to help get the thing started), it would completely change our collective relationship with the paper.

    The catch is that, for it to happen, the DP has to collapse. Which would be awful. But at this point I think it’s the only path to radical improvement.

  7. Agreed with Duncan. When most of what I see in the DP is already read via RSS feeds then why bother? If not for the local angles and sports it has nothing for me that the NYTimes (so I can watch those lefties!!) covers with 10x the material at a insignificant price difference.

  8. But would you expect them to begin a little more left leaning in their behavior with your money or could you stick with their current ideals?

  9. Does anyone remember the paper that Phil Stafford and Sandy McAdams started in the 70’s ? Was that a daily?

  10. I don’t see why the local paper has to have “ideals” that markedly affect the kind of coverage it provides. I think what a lot of people are saying here is we value good coverage of local issues and events. I don’t think what people want is simply to swap syndicated Cal Thomas columns for some syndicated leftist columns. I understand that nothing is truly objective and slant-free, but I do think that a local paper that did thorough, responsible, balanced coverage of the local issues would be a real boon.

  11. Cecil, I think the Hook is occupying that niche, and the online version gives citizens the opportunity to agree and disagree with the story often providing fascinating additional information. Cvilleweekly also does this but less so and with more pedestrian prose.

  12. But would you expect them to begin a little more left leaning in their behavior with your money or could you stick with their current ideals?

    A newspaper that’s of this community would inherently be closer to the center in their editorial positions, but that’s something that hasn’t crossed my mind, and that I don’t much care about w/r/t the topic at hand. Their inexplicable editorial positions really serves to highlight their distance from the community. I agree with Cecil that it’s good coverage of local matters that’s the most important thing from a local paper.

  13. A question for Waldo and others –
    Many other newspapers are bringing in money through their online print but the DP website has a small fraction of their articles available online. Is this a conscious choice, poor decision making or lack of abilities? Several of the categories (sports, entertainment vs news) have no updated articles on a daily basis – as of Jan 2 the last updated sports page article is from 12/30.

  14. T.J., I agree that the Hook does a pretty decent job (and better than CvilleWeekly, IMO) of reporting on local issues, personalities, news, etc. But it’s not a daily, and therefore they skew more towards in-depth features and investigations rather than thoroughly covering everything that’s going on. There’s nothing wrong with what they do, but I think what some people want is more straight-up daily reportage of events, issues, etc.

  15. “seems more likely that this will mark the beginning of a painful slide for the paper.”

    Are you kidding? It’s hard to say when the slide began. Aug. 23, 2002 front page story when they didn’t research past droughts with 3 dry years lead time and threatened water restrictions in 2001? Aug. 20, 2002 I had a letter printed explaining why the Housing Authority was controversial in response to a story that didn’t know why? Spring 2006 when they downplayed the violence in public schools? 2007 when Bob Gibson downplayed the random assaults downtown, contradicting downtown news sources (Newsplex) while Progress is not even located downtown anymore?

    Anyone looked at the classifieds lately? Remember when they had ads for used cars? Now only dealers have ads. Remember when there were 2 or 3 pages of help wanted ads and a whole section on Sundays? Help wanted shrunk to a few columns before the economic downturn.

    My blog is filled with criticism of the Progress coverage and recommendations for improvement. Remember recently the story about how city councilors were “flummoxed” because they had no idea what happened to $2.1 million affordable housing fund? The poor reporter had to write a revised story on 2 consecutive days because of the heat for initially reporting the truth.

    After the paper went up to 75 cents, I stopped my Progress media watch on Nov. 25. I still visit the website to see a different perspective on stories I’m following–but not to see what really happened. The real question is how the paper lasted this long.

    There’s still a market here for a daily paper, but not for a propaganda tool for whatever politicians want you to think on a given day. When meetings started being podcast, the extreme bias became so obvious that the paper’s collapse was ineveitable. If I had the money, I’d buy the paper and show how researched stories with historical perspective truly have a market.

  16. Well, I spent a whole 30 minutes reading the Progress Sunday Edition, which is about 24 minutes longer than the daily.

    This week I will be switching to NYtimes.

  17. NYTimes, now there’s a great paper to switch to. While you’re at it you might want to go ahead and subscribe to the Los Angles Times that way you get at the loon news.

  18. Since I put the idea to decentralize out there, do I get a cut of the sale of the building?

  19. Just as a quick introduction for those who don’t know, I run the DP’s website.

    This thread brings up a problem that I have been wrestling with since taking this position, updating more frequently using wire copy, or less frequently and keeping local content fronted.

    Reduced staff in newsrooms across the country make it harder to frequently update with local content, especially on slower news days.

    What would you rather have, more frequent updates with news from outside the Cville area, or less updates focused solely on local issues?

    As for Rick pointing out that a few sections went a little stale that was my fault. I took a few days off over the New Year holiday. I apologize.

    If you ever have any questions/comments feel free to email me at anytime. mrosenberg@dailyprogress.com


  20. Hi Matthew! I can’t speak for anyone else but I would rather see less updates with a local focus. There are thousands of websites I can get the other news. As is now, I look at the DP online when I get to work (and NewsVirginian and NewsLeader since I live in W’boro) and then spend the rest of the day checking Yahoo News.

  21. Matt,

    The main reason I don’t bother with the DP is I know it is basically the AP wire, which I’ll read elsewhere. I’m only interested in local content.

    There is a real lack of blogs in this town with good local focus. The HooK’s is probably the best one/easiest to read. C-Ville’s is probably the worst, due to all the advertisements on their pages. I count 10 on the ‘blogs’ front page, not counting house ads.

    *EIGHT* of those ten ads are animated. Which draws my eye away from what I’m trying to read every 2 seconds.

    Anyway .. there is a market there I think, but it’s obvious that there’s a wrong way to go about doing it, which is what the C-Ville has done.

    Unfortunately, given the Progress’ current layout (clicking on News takes me here: http://www.dailyprogress.com/cdp/news/) .. I’m not hopeful. The ‘content’ basically begins halfway down the page, and it’s a list of hyperlinks with no surrounding text about the item.

    Scrolling past that, I get the traditional 3 column layout .. Column 1 being ads, Column 2 being news items with some surrounding text info (good!) and pointless rating scales (bad!), a local events calendar which looks empty, and basically more navigation links. Column 3 is some animated list of breaking news (annoying) and a super-wide ad which seems to dominate/dictate the size of the column.

    Contrast to The Hook’s design (their blog page: http://www.readthehook.com/blog/), NOT their main site (which has it’s own design flaws) .. easy to read large point-sized headlines, tons of surrounding text so I don’t necessarily have to click through to the article to be informed (people hate clicking), an easy link to go to the comments, a sidebar with more news items, and a skinny ad column to the right that is very non-obtrusive. I don’t even visit the Hook’s main page, I enter through the blog page instead (which is saying something, and it’s not good).

    That’s why I go there (and here) for news, and not the C-Ville and the DP. Hope that helps.

  22. Liz, Chad,

    Thanks for your feedback. I have very little control over the design of the website (read none) but I try to improve the areas under my control. I do know that changes are being made based on reader’s feedback. In the mean time, I would recommend bookmarking this link.


    It is a straight listing of only local stories with descriptions and thumbnails. It is pretty straightforward.

    Let me know if that helps.


  23. Matt,

    Understood. I used to work at a newspaper company (Army Times) and had virtually no control over layout, aside from my input during design meetings which would be overruled by marketing saying we needed to put more ads on the page.

    Looking now, it looks like they’ve started to move away from that and have a fairly clean website now.

    That DP link is better, thanks. Most of the good content in a wide middle column with surrounding text.

    However, and I know this isn’t you either, but I’m just saying:

    Having ads like this on the site:

    makes me think less of the Daily Progress and it’s credibility. Unfortunately I don’t think the DP is in a position to be selective of who it takes $ from, but seeing ads like that is disappointing.

  24. Matt, is there a place where Progress website visitors can give their feedback to someone who does have control over the design?

  25. I would say just email me (mrosenberg@dailyprogress.com) and I can forward them on to the proper people. Constructive comments would be best.

    Trust me, we have had plenty of let’s say less than helpful critiques. Chad’s post was very descriptive and provided great info.


  26. @ Chad Day>

    Thanks for your riveting local news analysis. Though, I would have taken you more for a global type fella who reads The Economist or Harper’s (or better yet, New Zealand Herald or Guardian), bypassing any silly local data. So why then are you a friend of C-VILLE on your Facebook page? Oops. You’ve been outted. Should have used a pen name.

    Rosenberg, better check your friend list, you might have a closet reader.

  27. @James

    Chad’s comments were perfectly legit. Plus, maybe Chad has an iPhone making it very easy to read from the closet?

    On to Brother Beavis, we do have exactly that. Though it does take a bit of a scroll to find.

    http://www.cavalierinsider.com will take you directly to our UVa sports coverage. If you scroll down the page you will find Hootie’s mug with his 3 latest column entries. Underneath that you will find mugs of Jay and Whitey with their latest blog entries.

    Just as a bit of shameless promotion since people on this blog are pretty web savvy. Here are a few features you may or may not be aware of:

    DailyProgress.com on Facebook.
    Here you can grab our latest news app to install on your Facebook page. Though since Facebook’s redesign applications kinda suck on FB now.

    DailyProgress.com on Twitter
    Right now Twitter is updating with the latest inauguration news so those heading up to DC can sign up for mobile updates. If you are headed up there let me know. We would love for you to @reply to us on Twitter and give us your ground level impression.

    Lastly, we are blowing out Inauguration coverage. In addition to Twitter, you can get the latest news via two pages:

  28. @James

    The C-VILLE still has this thing called the ‘print edition’, which I still read. I also didn’t realize friending someone on Facebook was tacit approval of all they do. Hmm.

  29. I’d like to add my voice to the comments indicating the desire for local news at the expense of national news. As has been written, we can get national news many places, but not so local news. Thanks for taking the time to “listen” (or read, as it is), Mr. Rosenberg.

  30. For those of us interested in this conversation, this is a very interesting article by Seth Godin on this topic (read the whole thing) –

    What’s left is local news, investigative journalism and intelligent coverage of national news. Perhaps 2% of the cost of a typical paper. I worry about the quality of a democracy when the the state government or the local government can do what it wants without intelligent coverage. I worry about the abuse of power when the only thing a corrupt official needs to worry about is the TV news. I worry about the quality of legislation when there isn’t a passionate, unbiased reporter there to explain it to us.

    Punchline: if we really care about the investigation and the analysis, we’ll pay for it one way or another. Maybe it’s a public good, a non profit function. Maybe a philanthropist puts up money for prizes. Maybe the Woodward and Bernstein of 2017 make so much money from breaking a story that it leads to a whole new generation of journalists.

    The reality is that this sort of journalism is relatively cheap (compared to everything else the newspaper had to do in order to bring it to us.) Newspapers took two cents of journalism and wrapped in ninety-eight cents of overhead and distraction. The magic of the web, the reason you should care about this even if you don’t care about the news, is that when the marginal cost of something is free and when the time to deliver it is zero, the economics become magical. It’s like 6 divided by zero. Infinity.

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