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PN #50 Letter Rip: RIP Houston Press?

Dear Readers,

Some of us remember where we were or what we were doing when certain events occurred in our lifetime. Something like 9-11 or the shooting death of John Lennon or even Kurt Cobain’s suicide.

For me, I remember the death of the original incarnation of the Public News in 1998. Now nearly 20 years later, the junior arts and entertainment newspaper, the Houston Press, folded its print product fired its staff and withered to become just another website covering Houston.

I have read the comments from a stunned collection of readers of the Press. Dismay and disbelief flooded Twitter like blood on the sidewalk after a Chicago street killing. If the Press is to continue in a digital (read: website) format, they have a huge learning curve to navigate. The sole editor of the Press, Margaret Downling, is going to find it very hard to do the work of ten editors, on a daily basis on a shoestring budget. Can it be done? Of course it can, but still there are things that have not been thought through. For example, the free press exists via advertising. We all understand that. But what happens when readers chose to use ad blocking on their web browsers? Ouch! What do you think readers do when your website is so hard to launch or navigate? Yep, that’s right, they go elsewhere for their news.

Another alternative newspaper disappeared without even saying goodbye two years ago. The Free Press Houston (stylized FPH) shuttered their print edition in 2015, even ceasing their flipbook edition on Speaking with Omar Afra, FPH‘s publisher, he cited that the average reader of the FPH was 26 years old and did not pick up print copies nor read their flipbooks on issuu. Although I am twice the age of FPH’s target audience, I still read the FPH up to the day they disappeared. Nowadays for some odd reason I can never get their website to load on my smartphone. Even after waiting 10 minutes for the site to load, I gave up. I had better things to do with my time. Sorry Omar.

So what is the answer? Did the Houston Press and the Free Press Houston have to cease publication of their print issues? Not really. In the case of FPH, it was a choice. For the Press it was inevitable. The Press had been bleeding readers since 2005 when their circulation was 105,000 copies per week. Last year the Press cited 42,000 copies per week. The powers that be at the corporate level waited too long to save the paper and the jobs that went with it.
The Public News is jumping into this vacumn produced by the folding of the Houston Press. The Public News is going to be a print newspaper. Public News is also courting former writers of the Houston Press. So, if you had a favorite writer in the Press, look here in the near future to see if they have joined with us.
In the meantime, I’m going to be busier than ever.

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