Friday, August 2, 2013

Media is the message, from serving regional needs to global network

Last week I wandered west of Fort Worth, "where the west begins," said Amon Carter who founded the Star in 1906 then merged it with the Telegram in 1909. A long time ago and Carter was just 30 years old. It is amazing how back then the train was the only way to go, roads didn't exist, but companies were building railroad tracks linking cities. Fort Worth had trolleys linking up to Dallas, Denton and Corsicana. Carter saw a need of the farmer in West Texas. Newspapers were the only way they communicated. No telephones, no radio, no TV and no internet.


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Reading Amon, The Texan who played cowboy for America, a bio by ex-Star-Telegram reporter/editor Jerry Flemmons I start trying to put technology together with the times. Dallas was a bigger city and the Dallas papers covered the business and social life in the city. But people on the farms were being overlooked. Carter focused on the farmers needs and promoted Texas. Making the readers feel good, they're the best.

Back then newspapers were owned by local families, the regional paper like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Louisville Courier-Jounral, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Bullitin, Des Moines Register, Denver Post were the evening papers and what everyone read. The only way to know what was going on around you. 

Benjamin Franklin saw as a printer he had to publish a newspaper. He franchised other printers to reprint his newspaper and saw that farmers ( who made up most of the colonies) needed an almanac. 

I  find it interesting looking at Europe and seeing how their newspapers were more political, instruments of a political party. Amon Carter was a southerner and therefore a Democrat, but he supported Texas and liked Ike. Carter restored Eisenhowers birthplace in Dennison, but went against the wishes of Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Jouhnson.

It's the timing. Newspapers were the king in the beginning of the 20th century, the radio and weekly magazines took some of power away. National brands found the magazine's reproduction would make their car, fashion, appliances, etc. look and sell better. Radio got the word out to a wide audience, so the newspapers simply focused on the region. 

The thirteen colonies all linked to their British roots, but Carter had to make Texas special. He saw the new silent movies and invented the cowboy. Helped sell ads. Most newspapers used agents to sell national accounts, Carter apparently traveled around the country selling directly to the large corporations, dressed as a cowboy he invented. He needed larger circulation, but instead of buying more papers he increased the circulation of the Star-Telegram. Using hundreds of local corespondents to send in news about their small town, before Associated Press! The Star-Telegram was unique and only source for news, weather and sports.

It was terrific time for newspapers in the 20's and 30's, people looking for work needed to buy a newspaper and businesses ran ads to get customers.

Carter was unique in marketing the region. Believing "if the lake rises so will the boats." He saw World War II as a big event, important to readers, not for the news, but to cover Texans in the war!

He loved the airplane and worked to get the biggest and best airport. He got American Airlines to base in Fort Worth, and airplanes to be built in Texas. He heard about the radio and apparently didn't understand how it recieved stations, instead of buying a reciever the staff got confused and bought a transmitter. 
 
The radio WBAP, (We Bring A Program) expanded to the first television station west of St. Louis in 1948. And Carter wanted it to only go to the Star-Telegram readers and apparently was upset discovering how the signal would go to Dallas. Things were changing and Carter was losing the control, his way of looking at things was in the past. 

He started cutting back, letting the readership in West Texas go to new more local papers. The Amon book concludes that after the big war, the power had shifted and Amon was not the king. Concluding how being in control of the newspaper Amon Carter had more control than politicians, he was king over what happened in Fort Worth and everything to El Paso.

Is Facebook, Linked-in, Twitter, Google Plus what the daily newspaper use to be? Instead of promoting the region, the reader picks their friends and builds their own region. Television closed Life and LOOK magazines. But TV isn't like the internet. Google, Yahoo, MSN, Huffington Post, etc are competing to get readers and advertizers. . .globally! Where is the local pride?

Carter was interested in selling advertising and large circulation helped sell the ads. Many thought newspapers would always have a local, community service advantage. But the internet not only reaches the broad readership like the Life, Time magazine, BUT users can localize it to know what friends like and how local sports teams are doing.

Times change and technology rules. 

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