Dan Jacobson, Publisher of the Year?

Maybe Dan Jacobson, publisher and owner of the TriCityNews of Monmouth County, N.J., should be Editor & Publisher’s “publisher of the year.” The 10,000-circ. community newspaper just published its biggest issue, is “double-digit profitable” and it has been growing at about 10 percent a year since it was founded in 1999.

And it’s doing it without any Web presence to speak of.

Check it the paper’s Web page, such as it is. Jacobson’s philosophy about the Web makes Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Publisher, and former E&P publisher of the year, Walter Hussman look like Jeff Jarvis, for crying out loud:

“Why would I put anything on the Web?” asked Dan Jacobson, the publisher and owner of the newspaper. “I don’t understand how putting content on the Web would do anything but help destroy our paper. Why should we give our readers any incentive whatsoever to not look at our content along with our advertisements, a large number of which are beautiful and cheap full-page ads?”

No doubt publishing execs from Fortune to Conde Nast would look at Jacobson’s situation with envy.

But Mark Potts’ Recovering Journalist blog says the takeaway from Jacobson’s story shouldn’t be that having no Web strategy is the best strategy for print success.

Carr and Jacobson have jumped to the wrong conclusion about what makes the TriCityNews a success. Indeed, many small community papers, with and without Web sites, are doing just fine, and will continue to do so even as larger newspapers founder.

That has nothing to do with print, or the Web. It has everything to do with the fact that these little papers cover their communities closely–and have little or no competition in doing so. Web or not, their readers have almost no place else to go.

So contrary to what Carr and Donaldson believe, the secret to the TriCityNews’ success probably isn’t that it fiercely eschews the Web. It’s that it’s fiercely local.

So, good for the TriCityNews. They are doing very well doing the one thing all publishers should strive for, no matter the platform: serving readers and advertisers with a one-of-a-kind product that’s relevant and valuable.

But the method remains shortsighted. What happens when a new generation of readers, raised on the Web, come up eschewing inky, wasteful print, and the TriCityNews doesn’t reach them?

More on the TriCityNews here, and more from Potts here.

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