eightyone’s last issue

Brent Finnegan -- March 20th, 2009

April will be the last issue of eightyone. In a statement on the monthly magazine’s website, editor Deona Landes Houff writes, “Our members, advertisers and staff have hung in there a long time, well past the point of financial feasibility … Thanks so much for your years of readership and support.”

42 Responses to “eightyone’s last issue”

  1. Emmy says:

    This makes me really sad. I will miss this paper a lot. I appreciate all their hard work.

  2. Thanh says:

    Oh no! That’s terrible. I love Eighty-One magazine. Thank you Deona and all of the staff there for your wonderful contributions!

  3. I’m going to miss it. It’s the only independent print publication (in English) in town. IMO, fewer independent voices is a loss for the whole community.

  4. Kai says:

    That’s a real loss! Perhaps it could take some online form?

  5. Mike says:

    This is a big loss for our community. Thank you to all the staff and specifically to Deona for fighting the good fight for so long!

    Eighty-one will be sorely missed in our household.

  6. Thanks everyone.

    Mayor Kai, one of my biggest regrets is that eightyone will never publish a cover story about a true rarity: a funny-named, under-30, non-property-owning mayor. You, sir, were on my radar. :-)

    I have encouraged our dining editor Kirsten Parmer to start a blog. People liked her writing and learned from it.

    But I do not think a local non-daily online pub would make money. Not that the print one did, but we kept close to even in 2008 (without paying me, of course). An well done online one would probably lose big money. Reporters and calendar & dining editors deserve to get paid. Online would cut out a big expense — printing — but for a monthly pub, I don’t think we could get enough ad revenue to pay for everything else. And of course my dream was that eightyone would one day go weekly …. (sigh).

    And while I know online is the way to go, and one day maybe local media sites will make money, I am — as an editor and a reader — concerned for what happens to the longer story in that form. Do enough folks read 2,500 – 3,000 words online as they will in print? And yes, I know we were the only folks publishing that length story locally. Now no one will. I also don’t like what this shift from print is doing to photography. Increasingly, reporters are shooting their own stories and I think it makes for reduced quality. But can a local pub afford to pay for photos that are itty bitty on a computer screen?

    I know, I know. I sound old. I feel old. Gotta get back to it.

  7. Two more things .. if you want to help me, forgive the typos above and answer this month’s three questions. It’ll give you a chance to win two free plane tickets. Even Emmy can’t find you a deal like that!!

    http://www.eightyone.info/online/?p=828

    Thanks.

  8. Very unfortunate news, although perhaps not surprising in this environment in terms of the shorter term recession and the longer term pressures on print media. Congratulations on a job very well done, in any case. So sorry.

  9. Ernie Didot says:

    Very, very sad to hear this news. Selfishly speaking, can’t you hang in there till September so we can advertise the opening of A Bowl of Good Cafe?! Your readership hit squarely our target customer. Sigh. We hope the best for your next steps.

  10. This is a loss for our community.

    I wonder how much revenue the DNR gets from local and state government by being the “newspaper of record”. I hate the thought of our tax dollars subsidizing their editorial staff while good papers like eightyone struggle to make ends meet. Perhaps we should require that to be eligible for government ads, the newspapers of record must be available for free.

  11. According to the state budget website, the state government gave many thousands of dollars to the DNR between 2003-2009. I’m sure that their income from local governments has been even higher with all the required public notices.

    This is an outrage.

  12. Breslau says:

    I never really read it, but a lack of press diversity is a major blow to a growing community such as ours.

  13. The spending by state government is much worse than I had thought…by using both “Daily News-Record” and “Daily News Record” as vendor search terms, and by searching in cash payments as well as charge card expenditures, the list is enormous.

    In this fiscal year alone (which runs from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009), the state has bought at least $11,975 in ads from the DNR. The accounts for the charge cards mysteriously end in October, so I’m not sure if those accounts were frozen or if they just haven’t entered the data yet.

    And as I said before, I’m sure it’s as bad or worse for local governments.

  14. David Miller says:

    The fact is that locally the DNR is the closest thing to “newspaper of record” that we have.

    Deona we will miss the fruits of your hard work.

  15. Renee says:

    I didn’t read it often, but I liked Eighty-One – it really added something unique to the local ‘newspaper scene’. This is sad news.

    Deona, I’m going to answer the 3 questions now.

  16. Carrie says:

    I was a big fan of eightyone. I’ve spent this school year working out-of-state and am so disappointed to know that my favorite local publication will not be available when I return! I especially mourn the dining guide – it’s so helpful for an indecisive girl like me!

  17. Toni Mehling says:

    Deona,
    Speaking for Brad and me, we are also disappointed to hear about the end of eightyone. We are anxious for print publications like yours and ours to thrive in the Valley. The other commentators are right. We need diversity for our readers AND our advertisers!
    We wish you and your staff all the best.
    Toni Mehling
    Publisher
    Shenandoah Living magazine

  18. Bubby says:

    So if there is no local ad revenue for a local on-line culture magazine where do the restaurants and retail businesses advertise? We dine out often, have disposable income, yet NEVER read the DNR, watch local TV, or listen to commercial radio. I sense an opportunity to reach DINKs like me that is not being mined.

    In this day, and age, there is no excuse for any government body or agency not putting all public notices on their web sites with an RSS link, and a email notification sign-up capability. Arlington even lets you sign up for an array of notifications via text message/email/vmail.

  19. David Miller says:

    That’s a great idea Bubby.

  20. Jim T says:

    I’ve only come to know the paper over the last six months ago after picking it up on errands in H-burg. I’d come to look forward to reading it on sunday mornings on our brick terrace at the cabin. Sorry to hear this and I hope everyone that contributed finds a suitable outlet for their wonderful talent.

  21. Ryan says:

    Try GoLookOn.com Bubby, it has over 100 menus and lots of local retail and service businesses. However, eighty-one will definitely be missed. I often referred potential advertisers to them and eighty-one referred its readers to GoLookOn in the dining guide for restaurants that did not have their own websites. We did not plan it or or have any agreement, but it was nice to have a local ad medium that put co-operation ahead of competition.

  22. T says:

    Eightyone had some of the region’s best writing. their coverage of the bulldozing of Harrisonburg’s black downtown set a high mark. Subsequent reports (whether print of motion-picture) on the same subject by others sources don’t even come close.

    Seems like Eightyone also drove the DNR to try to kill it off with lookalike free sections like Escape and Rocktown. Seemed like Rocktown displaced Eightyone at many grocery racks like a cowbird moving into a songbird’s nest.

    I suspect that the DNR’s special artsy section/s will gradually shrink away now. Oh wait, Escape already did (I think it devolved into TV listings with one or two features stories attached –a bitty thing called See And Do). Maybe Rocktown will linger for another year or two until the coast is clear of Eightyone-like edgy investigative newsprint-mags.

    Eightyone will be missed.

  23. Crystal says:

    Here’s a question … do you think the area would support a weekly news publication like the Hook that covered primarily Augusta County and Harrisonburg?

  24. T … we never felt like Escape or Rocktown looked like us or hurt us. Thanks, though, to you and and everyone for the kind words.

    Continued good luck to Ryan with golookon.com and to anyone — even the DNR — trying to make a living by keeping people informed and enlightened.

  25. And Crystal to answer your question, I like to think that in a good economy yes, the wider area would support such a weekly publication, but it would take an enormous financial investment from a brave soul to get it started. Back in the good old days — ok, a few years ago — I more than once tried to talk Hawes Spencer of the Hook into buying eightyone and taking it weekly with me as its editor. He was always nice and excited about the possibilities, but the best he could do was say “maybe next year.” Then the years started getting financially difficult, and you know the rest of the story.

  26. Bubby says:

    So sorry that collaboration with the Hook didn’t work out. I would think that the the Hook’s investigative and controversial style would be a great contrast to the DNR.

  27. Jeff says:

    First, I doubt Rocktown or Escape were designed to kill off eightyone; more likely they were/are misguided attempts to generate more revenue for a business in decline.

    Next: Just my opinion… but unless someone like Deona is willing to subsidize a local paper (or website), as a going business it simply won’t work.

    Think about eightyone for a second. Editorially it completely reflected the sensibilities and viewpoint of its publisher; fair enough since she wrote the checks. But as a result it wasn’t a “must read” for a wide enough base. I say that not because the quality of writing or photography was poor – it wasn’t – but because not enough people were willing to “pay” to read it, either by becoming members or by frequenting advertisers to the extent those advertisers were willing to pay more. Not enough members… not enough advertising revenue… unsustainable business. (I know – I’m the master of the obvious.)

    Could it become a web-only publication? Probably not. Small area, not enough page views, editorial position that doesn’t create controversy or cater to a broad slice of the population… resulting ad revenue would be small. Required salaries to ensure continued high quality would definitely outweigh ad revenue, and if you enlist “volunteer” writers, it quickly becomes a vanity publication and then no one reads it. (Think blogs.)

    So: You may want a local paper that reflects your sensibilities, but in the end you don’t to the extent you’re willing to pay for the privelege. Take eightyone again. Were you a member? Did you tell local restaurants you stopped in because you saw their ad in eightyone? If you own/run a business, did you advertise in eightyone? Maybe your answer is yes to at least one of those questions, but for most people the answer to those questions is no – not because you don’t like eightyone’s content, but because you made other choices for pragmatic reasons. You weren’t a member because you could read the paper for free. You didn’t mention eightyone to a restaurant owner because, in all likelihood, you didn’t even notice their ad. (We all have highly developed ad filters.) You only advertised in eightyone if you thought it made solid business sense. As a result, eightyone was a great paper with unsustainable financials. Again, none of that is a slam on eightyone; it’s just “life.”

    News, information distribution, content, what people will pay to access… it’s all changing. Local papers or websites (especially “non-corporate” ones) have little chance unless they’re consistently controversial, provide a truly valuable service that can’t be found anywhere else, and are incredibly easy to access and use. Like Deona said, the investment would be enormous and with little chance of ROI.

    But think of it this way: If you’re sad eightyone is fading away while the D-NR is still tottering along, console yourself with the image that five to ten years from now the D-NR, if it still exists, will do so in a form nothing like what you see today.

    If that helps ease the pain.

  28. Jeff,

    Just out of curiosity, but does your last name begin with an “M”?

  29. Jeff says:

    Nope, last name is Haden. (And in the interests of meaningless full disclosure, Deona and I used to be neighbors.)

  30. seth says:

    my understanding is that dnr reporters aren’t supposed to comment on here
    (in the interest of meaningless full disclosure)

  31. Are DNR reporters even allowed to comment on their own stories on dnronline.com?

    I think Jeff is speaking the truth here. In general, people say “It’s such a shame that newspapers are dying,” but how many of those people subscribe to or buy papers? Same goes for public broadcasting, etc. I feel like we just had this same discussion about Plan 9 last week. If you truly care about something, you need to put your money where your mouth is.

  32. seth says:

    not sure, but i don’t think so

  33. Jeff says:

    I think DNR reporters should be able to comment on their own stories if for no other reason than it would be good business.

    Say a reporter writes a story about Rosetta Stone, readers comment, and the reporter provides additional info in response to those comments (info that didn’t fit in the original article due to word count constraints.) That would make the “paper” a lot more engaging. Of course, doing so takes time… but would also make the DNR site more like this one, where stories aren’t static… and means it might bring back some readers the DNR has lost.

    Or take it a step farther. What if the DNR site knew what you’re interested in and what changed since your last visit? Say you read the Rosetta Stone story a few hours ago; the site could show you updates the reporter filed since then, along with the better responses from readers. The home page could be populated with content it knows you’re interested in through permission-based tracking. In theory reading an online newspaper should be more rewarding than reading the paper version through customization.

    Would that solve the DNR’s problems? Not by itself… but creating a better and more engaging user experience would be a great way to start.

    Otherwise you’ll go elsewhere – which more and more people do.

  34. Yes, I started eightyone in 1998 in a duplex that sat next door to Jeff Haden’s house in Rockingham County, off Port Republic Road. (Hi, Jeff.) I don’t live there anymore and I don’t think Jeff does either.

    Of course DNR reporters should be able to comment on their stories.

  35. Jeff, good points. I agree. But that would require a fundamental shift in how editors and reporters treat stories. It would mean stories as a process, rather than a product. I’m not sure older, established news orgs are ready or willing to make that shift.

  36. The Hook’s reporters often take part in the online discussions of their stories. Sometimes to clarify, sometimes to encourage commenters to behave, sometimes to ask for those with additional info to e-mail them privately. How very sensible.

  37. Jeff says:

    Brent, you’re right, and maybe that’s why so many established newspapers are struggling: Tribune filed for bankruptcy, Seattle P-I closed, so did Rocky Mountain News, Wash Post earnings down 70-odd percent in Q4 2008… (I’ll stop there.)

    Sticking with outdated means of distribution… treating news as a product rather than a process… along with tons of other reasons… is killing off newspapers as we know them. The DNR will probably hang in there for awhile because it’s a niche publication – it serves a very defined market and has no real competition for what it provides. Problem for the DNR, in my opinion, is more and more people don’t want or need what it provides… and it isn’t changing to serve a changing market’s needs. “Innovations” like allowing people to comment on its stories online doesn’t accomplish anything other than to give the 20 or 30 people who seem to comment on every story a voice.

    That’s what I think, anyway. Then again, I thought there was no way anyone would watch American Idol.

  38. JGFitzgerald says:

    A principle behind newspaper stories used to be that the story was the final word (unless a correction was, heaven forbid, necessary). A lot of people have gone beyond that. The DNR is a little bit old-fashioned. (These are, after all, the people who invented massive resistance.)

  39. seth says:

    i’d be interested to know exactly what the policy is and why. i’d always assumed it had something to do with professionalism though (read, i can get on here and make an ass of myself by showing my ignorance or being baited into petty bickering now and again, but if my job were to be an objective provider of news, those sorts of things would affect my ability to do my job).

  40. seth says:

    (…or inciting petty bickering)
    :)

  41. JGFitzgerald says:

    Less policy, and more a matter of belief, or perhaps ideology. The newspaper must believe that it is printing the truth, nothing but the truth, and the whole truth. (Never mind the paragraph that got cut in the composing room.) Otherwise, it might be taken to be libelous, dishonest, sloppy, lazy, understaffed, and/or unreliable. And since a newspaper is selling two things, credibility and ads, it can’t afford to be any of those things. So the catechism is that it’s not.

    It’s not an easy thing to understand from out here, and even harder if you’re in a newsroom and have an IQ above room temperature Celsius. But it’s the great underpinning of the church of journalism, sort of like the Trinity and the Resurrection. Without it, you might as well be a Wiccan.

    From that standpoint, there is no reason to discuss or explain your news stories. The stories themselves are the discussion and the explanation.

    MSM without end, amen.

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