The contemporary Whitewater Register is inheritor of a proud legacy in Whitewater. The Register has squandered that legacy, and has a bleak future. The paper is a weekly, multi-section newspaper serving a town of fourteen thousand. The paper has several, mostly self-inflicted challenges, from which it is unlikely to recover.
1. Incurious! The worst problem with the Register is that it does not offer a curious, inquisitive, investigative outlook. There’s nothing investigative in the paper, ever. It’s a dull, plodding paper for lack of curiosity. There’s no reason to rush out and buy it, unless you think someone put your picture in it. (See my post entitled, “Carrying Water for Larry Meyer.”)
2. Poorly Written. It’s pedestrian prose, front to back. The few attempts the paper makes to make copy lively with quotations are callow, and preachy. (See, my post entitled, “The Whitewater Register: Overview.”)
3. Limited Local Coverage. Many of the stories are so general they could appear in just about any Wisconsin paper. That’s probably by design, so that the Southern Lakes newspaper chain can spread the same manure on as many fields as possible.
4. Stale Stories. The Register has the challenge of many weeklies — the story’s old by the time an issue hits the news stands (if they bother to carry a local, interesting story at all). The solution would be to publish investigative stories, but that would require (1) hiring someone talented, and (2) supporting that inquisitive reporter.
5. Competitive Pressures from Better Papers. The Daily Union, Janesville Gazette (both dailies) and The Week are (1) better written, (2) with a more objective, inquisitive nature, and (3) increasingly popular in Whitewater. Points (1) and (2) explain point (3). As the Daily Union extends more column inches to coverage of Whitewater, the Register has even less to distinguish itself.
6. Dismal Circulation Figures vs. Competitive Dailies. (I’ll use circulation figures that newspapers have reported in public documents to the State of Wisconsin, Newspaper Certification Rates, Statewide Bureau of Procurement Contract No. 15-99955-601. The figures are for paid circulation.)
Register (weekly): 1,569 paid circulation (that’s Paltry, with a capital “P”)
Daily Union (daily): 7,767 paid circulation
Janesville Gazette (daily): 22,340 paid circulation
7. Dismal Circulation Figures vs. Weeklies.
Of the listings in the State of Wisconsin document, the Register falls in the roughly the bottom quarter of newsweeklies by circulation. Approximately three out of four newsweeklies listed have higher circulation than the Register.
Let’s compare the Register with other newspapers in the Southern Lakes chain. When one looks at the percentage of a town’s population constituting paid subscribers, the figures are even more dismal:
Register: 1,569 paid circulation — population 14,262 — penetration 11%
Twin Lakes Report: 1,051 paid circulation — population 5,522 — penetration 19%
Waterford Post: 1,875 paid circulation — population 6,519 — penetration 28%
Burlington Standard Press: 3,648 paid circulation — population 10,524 — penetration 34%
Delavan Enterprise: 3,275 paid circulation — population 8,401 — penetration 39%
East Troy News: 1,627 paid circulation — population 3,911 — penetration 41%
Elkhorn Independent: 2,443 paid circulation — population 9,080 — penetration 26%
Palmyra Enterprise: 782 paid circulation — population 1,753 — penetration 44%
8. Dismal Circulation Figures vs. the Whitewater Banner. That’s right — the online Whitewater Banner, at www.whitewaterbanner.com — has a stronger weekly circulation than the Register. (The Banner’s not a site for acknowledged commentary – it’s more liked an electronic bulletin board, and so is closer to the current focus of the Register than a site of independent commentary like FREE WHITEWATER.)
About 500 people or so visit the Banner daily, according to its stats package. (It’s IPStat, with a link at the very bottom of the Banner’s page – just keep scrolling until you see a purple square, and click.) Not all of the Banner’s visitors are repeats, and IPStat’s not perfect, but it’s reasonable to conclude that in seven days, the Banner probably has about as many or more unique readers than the paid circulation of the Register.
The Banner can (1) update continuously, (2) has lots of truly local stories, (3) color photographs, and (4) it’s more accessible than a newspaper to anyone who learns of its web address (no need to go out to a store to buy it – just type and click twenty-four/seven). I have mixed feelings about aspects of the Banner; I have no doubt about its many advantages for community notices over the Register.
9. No Web Presence! The Southern Lakes chain, of which the Register is probably the weakest link — seems to have no web presence at all. It did at one time, and it may again. Will it be able to overcome the Banner? Hard to say – neither the Daily Union, Gazette, nor The Week have as many Whitewater community notices as the Banner. (Those newspapers’ online editions don’t compete on community notices – they’re a more complete example of true news reporting.) The Register inadequately reports compared with its print rivals; it inadequately publishes community events compared to the Banner; it offers no local commentary quite like FREE WHITEWATER.
10. Unable to Respond to a Solid Critique. I have, of course, criticized the Register in more than one post. I challenge an employee of that newspaper to defend the Register on the points of criticism in my posts entitled, Carrying Water for Larry Meyer, Whitewater Register’s Fawning Story on Police Day, and The Whitewater Register: Overview. If Carrie Dampier, or anyone else from the Register or Southern Lakes Newspapers, cares to refute those critiques, well, have at it. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will publish their defense, and reply thereafter. (Candidly, I think that someone is more likely to produce convincing evidence of Bigfoot than convincing evidence that the Register is a good newspaper.)
I have no doubt that the Register, under “editor” Carrie Dampier, will continue to offer only poorly written copy, ignore basic rules of journalism, and write as though it were the public relations agent for this town’s enervated, stagnating clique. I also have no doubt that the Register‘s bias doesn’t matter. The Register’s a dying paper with a paltry circulation. It’s already half way to being a weekly, commercial shopping advertiser, for goodness’ sake. Too funny: the town clique’s most reliable media lapdog is the city’s least influential news outlet.
The Register‘s bias in favored of an atrophied town faction only appeals to the already-committed, so to speak. If the Register is the best that the dissipated town elite can do, then they have no better future than the fish wrap that defends them.
That brings me to the introduction of new symbols to represent the fish wrap-ready, birdcage-lining Whitewater Register. Over at the FREEWHITEWATER Design Labs™ Creative Art Department, there’s been a secret, round-the-clock effort to symbolize the Whitewater Register. Here are two graphic designs from that effort. Feel free to write to me at email@example.com, and let me know which one you prefer.
Fish Wrap Register