PUBLISHER’S ANNOUNCEMENT:

Chronicle To Publish Monthly Online, Quarterly in Print

by Alice Cherbonnier

Think crossing the Niagara Falls on a tightrope without a net is tough? Try publishing a newspaper in a non-upscale market.

AFTER NEARLY 30 YEARS as a monthly newspaper, The Baltimore Chronicle is changing its publication schedule. Starting in January, the Chronicle will be available online at http://baltimorechronicle.com on the first Wednesday of each month. In addition, we will be publishing a redesigned quarterly edition in print—maybe with (gasp!) color.

Is money an issue? Sure, but if money were that important to us we would never have published in city communities to begin with.

No—we’re making the change for a number of reasons, one of which is that we’re suffering from Contact Poison. We get about 50 stupid phone calls a day—“Could you please spell your editor’s name?” [Ever think about picking up a copy and checking?] or “We have a punk band coming to Baltimore. Do you plan to review?” [Ever check to see if we cover that kind of music?] or “Could you send a media kit?” [What? You think we’re a big daily?] or “I have a story idea for your paper about a new business in Finksburg” [Do you have our paper in front of you? Yes? See the list of communities we serve right below the banner? Uh-huh. Could’ve saved yourself a call, huh?] or “Could I have your fax number to send you a press release?” [What’s it about? No, we don’t cover business development in Hagerstown.]

From now on, the only answers we’ll give to such annoying inquiries is: “See our website at baltimorechronicle.com” and “Send press releases by email only to editor@baltimorechronicle.com.”

We realize that all fellow media outlets are similarly besieged by such nuisance interruptions. But, because we’re a small operation, we do not have the buffer of a secretarial staff, and those specialized phone answering systems are too expensive and too impersonal for our taste. Besides, we’d still have to listen to all those messages. (We do fantasize about having one, though: “For the spelling of the editor’s name, press one.” “For ad rates, press two.” “For a list of the communities we serve, press three.” “If you’re trying to sell us something, press four”; “If you really feel it’s appropriate to interrupt a human being, press five.”)

Another reason is Demon-Graphics. Now that it’s possible for advertisers to pinpoint their markets, they have no interest in spending ad dollars to reach a more diverse audience—which you necessarily have if you circulate in Baltimore City. Our ad base has steadily eroded since the late 1970s, as community business districts have faded out and federal urban renewal grants, which used to bolster them, have disappeared. The Chronicle is not aimed at a “trendy” or “upscale” audience, so we lose out when selling against slicker publications that claim to reach people “between the ages of 24 and 36 with $X amount of disposable income who dine out in fine restaurants 11 times a month and plan to buy a new car/house/ racehorse/T-bill within the next year.” No—we can’t say these things, and wouldn’t even if we could. In our view, a newspaper’s responsibility is to all the readers in its community, regardless of their age, race, educational level, or (always most important!) ability to consume.

Another factor influencing our changed publication schedule is Head Injuries. We have lost patience with beating our heads against the wall. People who sell ads (not just us!) are too often treated like slime. The most offensive sales encounters are typically with “upscale” boutiques and ad agencies that could care less about the quality of reporting or issues related to freedom of the press.

During our four-day vacation in August, my husband (and publisher) Larry and I, realizing we have only about 10 years—15 at best—in which to build a retirement nest egg—decided we would stop publishing the paper with the December 2001 issue, and concentrate on our other two more prosperous businesses.

But then came the September 11 events, and the appalling media goose-stepping that followed. We realized we couldn’t stop publishing altogether, much as we wanted to, because we felt it would be journalistically irresponsible to shut down. The October and November editions of the Chronicle have attracted even more attention than usual, from all over the world.

A Burden and A Blessing

This newspaper has become for us as babies were for Mark Twain: both a burden and a blessing. And so we have cobbled together the Web/print quarterly solution. The website, webmastered by my brother, Marc Cherbonnier, already has a healthy circulation—7,000 to 8,000 a month. We expect even more people to gravitate to it during the months when there’s no print edition.

We may eventually evolve to an Internet-only newspaper (we’d get to have color wherever we want it, articles can run as long as needed, more stories can appear, and no trees die), but there would have to be some revenue from it—through ads and voluntary subscriptions.

We thank the thousands of people who have given us support and encouragement over these many years—writers, interns, advertisers, subscribers. We value the trust and respect you all have given us, and ask for your continued support.

And to anyone who wants an ad: we’ll take your call!


Send your email address to editor@baltimorechronicle.com, and we’ll send you a reminder when the January issue is posted at http://baltimorechronicle.com.

 


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This story was published on December 5, 2001.