We See England, We See France...

We need to get a few things out of the way right here at the top. Please tell me that I am thin-skinned. Thank you. Now I would like you to tell me this is all just sour grapes. Great. And finally, please tell me I'm just jealous. Hey, that was easy, eh?

Now I would like to tell you all about City Hall's new idea for an official list of "recommended newspapers" that city government should spend your tax dollars supporting. And try to look at it from my point of view, will you?

Here I am: I am sitting through this long, very droning PowerPoint deal, a briefing last week for the full city council by Frank Librio, head of the city's public information office. I have always liked Librio, but I have always hated PowerPoint with a passion.

Librio is telling the council all about his idea to centralize the city's $1.3 million annual advertising expenditures, now scattered over many departments, under...oh, guess who! You got it. One Frank Librio. And now he's getting to the part where he tells them which local newspapers should get the city moolah.

Librio says the city should spend the vast preponderance of its tax money buying advertising in The Dallas Morning News. Surprise, surprise. But the News does happen to be the city's daily paper.

Now he says the city should spend some more money with Quick, the Morning News' free-distribution daily digest. He misleads the council a bit about what a good deal Quick is, and I will get back to that in a second.

But the point is, most of the white council members are nodding their approval. You can see it on their faces: Oh, yes, very smart. Spend a ton of money with Belo. Good thinking, Frank.

Librio says the city also needs to spend money on advertising in Al Día, the Morning News' Spanish-language newspaper and in a couple other Spanish papers. Council members Garcia and Salazar are nodding approvingly: Good market strategy, Frank. Support the Spanish-language press.

Now he's telling them the city needs to support the black papers—the Dallas Post Tribune, Dallas Weekly and the Elite News. Yes, yes: Our black caucus is nodding its approval.

He says we should support the Voice, the city's leading gay and lesbian newspaper. It seems to me several members start to nod and then quickly correct themselves, but it's clear there is a lot of support for the Voice.

So what do we think will happen when Librio gets to the money that City Hall needs to spend in the Dallas Observer?

Hey, I don't normally busy my little head with things like this. I am what's called an "editorial person." Under normal circumstances, we editorial people are to our newspaper's owners what the Rockettes are to the Rockefellers. We are encouraged to be vivacious, and we are discouraged from thinking too seriously about the business end of things.

But ever since I got PowerPointed by Librio, I have been looking into why the city might spend some money buying ads in my newspaper. It wasn't easy. The publisher of my own newspaper sees me coming with a notebook to interview him, and you'd think from the look on his face somebody's sick iguana had escaped.

But our group publisher, Stuart Folb, did speak to me, and he did provide me with audited readership numbers that show the Observer reaching an audience 62 percent the size of the Morning News audience in a two-month period.

More to the point, perhaps: Almost half of our readers do not read the Morning News. So if you save back some of what you were going to spend on Morning News ads and spend it with us instead, you greatly increase the overall reach of your ads.

Look, I am far from knowledgeable about this stuff, even after discussing it with people who are. This gets to be a fairly technical business. That's why they have advertising agencies. Advertising agencies specialize in advertising. They actually do know about this stuff, as opposed to your typical city employee.

So back to the city council briefing session with Librio and his power points: What do we think is about to happen when he tells the council how much money should be spent with the Observer? Well, gosh, I don't even have to tell you that, do I?

All of the nodding—yes, yes for the white people newspapers and yes, yes for the black people papers and the Hispanic people papers and yes for the gay people papers—all of that is going to come to a screeching halt and turn on a dime. All of those smiles are going to turn upside down.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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