Idaho Statesman publisher Mi-Ai Parrish spoke at City Club of Boise yesterday afternoon, first addressing the audience with optimistic news about the daily paper's current status and then submitting to a fairly friendly grilling from audience questions.
Although officially titled "The Future of Your Daily Newspaper," Parrish's comments revealed less about the future than they did of the present. In short, Parrish said the Statesman's readership is up (even in the 18-34 demographic), that McClatchy is a "solidly profitable multi-media company" (emphasis on the multi-media with warm fuzzies for Twitter, Facebook and idahostatesman.com) and that while it may look like the paper is down, given the one-two punch of a deep recession and the rise of the Internet, the Statesman is certainly not out.
Come question time, City Clubbers seemed mostly concerned about money. At least at first.
Parrish fielded questions about selling Statesman content on the Internet, the impact of free classified listings like Craigslist and the possibility of large dailies becoming 501(c)3's or getting a government bail out. The answers: Parrish hates to give away content, including on the Internet; non-profit status could help secure grants to do expensive investigative reports; and she's no fan of government bailing out media—better to keep a free press free of Uncle Sam's money.
Eventually Parrish was faced with questions about the Statesman's editorial content, specifically its paltry business section and what one questioner called a complete lack of investigative reporters. As to the former, Parrish said sure, she'd like to have a bigger biz section but to the latter, she simply flat out disagreed. While that was a short and sweet answer to a serious concern, it at least came off better than a backhanded "duly noted," which she delivered in answer to a question about the defunct Tech Monday column.
Someone in the audience beat citydesk to the punch with a question about Boise Weekly, and whether the Statesman considered BW competition, or if there's a possibility for collaboration between the two papers. Short answer: like all media, we compete editorially but it's not necessarily an adversarial relationship.
And in case Parrish's McClatchy bosses want to know how well she towed the company line without giving away too much, citydesk gives her an "A." We heard more than once about "core competencies" and when asked to state exactly how many people had been affected by the Statesman's recent lay-offs, Parrish had a great non-answer answer. Parrish started the lay-off numbers with 28 pressman (14 of whom moved to Idaho Press-Tribune with the press switch earlier this year) and then wandered off into different territory without addressing numbers in the newsroom or elsewhere—numbers that citydesk wagers the asker was actually interested in.
Citydesk did get a couple of good chuckles out of the forum. First, when Parrish said the Statesman has been accused of being too far left. (Heck, if that's the case, some people out there must think BW is so far left we're almost right.) And second, when moderator Marcia Franklin told Parrish the new-ish headline/subhead/first graph is sometimes too confusing for readers.
In the end, what did we learn about the future of Idaho's largest daily newspaper? Well, its publisher doesn't think we can live without it and since she inked a 20-year print contract with the Press-Trib, she's optimistic that it'll be around a while.
One final note: The forum had originally been titled "The Future of Newspapers" before it was slightly altered to better reflect Parrish's area of expertise. Regardless, the forum apparently didn't draw much attention from Parrish's counterparts at other area newspapers. Idaho Press-Tribune Publisher Rick Weaver and Boise Weekly Publisher Sally Freeman passed up City Club to dish on industry gossip over lunch at Sweetwater's Tropic Zone.