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Published on August 10th, 2013 | by RLn Staff

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Back to the Future: Newspapers, Business Districts and Street Fairs

By James Preston Allen, Publisher

Just when the motto, “print is dead” is being repeated daily like a mantra chanted by the Hari Krishnas of the iWorld, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, a digital world icon, buys the Washington Post for a mere $250 million. Then there is the sale of the Boston Globe to John W. Henry the owner of the Boston Red Sox for a paltry $70 million. Henry is one of those hedge fund billionaires. And even closer to home, the O.C. Register is planning to launch a new daily paper called the Long Beach Register to fill the vacuous hole of irrelevancy left by MediaNews Group’s, Press Telegram.

So, what more can one say? Suddenly real newspapers, with real reporters, printed on real paper are hot properties just when their advertising values have hit a new low. We have the Billionaire Boys Club buying up print publication like some foreclosed properties at fire-sale prices. What does this say about the relevancy of hard copy news? Something that I’ve been saying for the last decade while everyone’s been fidgeting with their new mobile devices, dreaming of a new digital age –free of paper. However, I do have a particular bias in this, don’t I?

Now, I don’t wish to demean the significance of digital communications. I use them daily and rely on them as much or even more than the average reader. What is lost in the hype and exuberance of this new technology is that in this, the richest nation in the world, there is still some 40 percent of the people who do not have access to broadband internet and there are still some 7,000 weekly newspapers nationwide who still prosper despite of it. At issue, is really the business model of daily newspapers to adapt to this change in technology. They are literally committing a form of collective suicide, like lemmings.

The big daily papers, not unlike other big corporations, adapt poorly to core changes in their markets. Think of General Motors or Bank of America. If not for government bailouts, these corporate behemoths would also have been sold off at bargain basement prices. That they still exist is because they were propped up and forced to change.

Smaller papers like this one, are more agile and capable of adapting to change. We adapted by placing our entire newspaper online, as you read it in hard copy, with additional features, articles and content– real content– not fluff and fold regurgitation or small town brown-nosing. We exist and thrive by the very fact that communities and business districts need to have a newspaper that communicates to everyone, not just a few.

Communities like ours thrives because there’s a newspaper that host the public’s conversation on political issues, public policy and community events and is open to both the pauper and the prince. A newspaper that understands its place in a democracy as a venue for public debate, is one that resists complacency through favoritism or cronyism.

Business district all across this nation are challenged by the same problems that San Pedrans are here. We are not exceptional. The Great Recession has hit Main Street harder and lasted longer than what anyone wishes to admit. The small entrepreneur knows this better than any banker or politician.

Yet the business leaders in these districts react in seemingly old fashion ways. The recent street fair celebrating the 125th anniversary of San Pedro on August 3 and 4 is one example of good intentions recycling old solutions. I’ve seen this street fair in at least three–if not four– incarnations in the past 30 years. Branding-wise, it was confusing as to what it was celebrating or where it was taking place, or exactly what 125 years this celebration represented. As far as content, it could have been held in any part of Los Angeles County. In other words, there was not much that made this event particularly unique to the character or the Historic Waterfront Arts District. Where were the artists, actors and performers of our culturally rich community? Plenty of good tribute bands from all over the place, but was Mike Watt, the nationally known local musician invited to perform? I felt like how one local commented, “Is this all we have after 125 years?”

This “back to the future” street fair did accomplish one core objective: It filled some, though not all, of our better restaurants and bars until closing time for one glorious weekend and brought some needed foot traffic to streets that in better days have seen thousands of workers flow through its avenues.

What has been lost and still not found in all of this is the basis for a new vibrant local economy. Like many small business districts across this land, this one has to compete with both the global and digital business models. And what’s frustrating to those who live and work here is that we get to witness the impact of hundreds of billions of dollars of imports arriving annually right in front of us.

When we learn how to replace the 35,000 locally based jobs we lost during the 1980s to free trade agreements, we will once again see a revival of this downtown waterfront business district. In the meantime it was great to have the Lobster Festival crawl up Sixth Street for the weekend.

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