Discovering the East Bay’s Local Paper

By Becky O'Malley
Thursday August 21, 2008 - 10:06:00 AM

The price of gasoline makes the Planet’s annual “Discovering the East Bay” issue even more relevant than it has been in previous years. Just about this time every summer a whole lot of new people come to Berkeley, most of them drawn by the University of California, either as students or as employees. All of them need places to live. After that, they need to buy things to set up housekeeping, and when that job’s done, they’re ready for a little pleasure. That’s where the Planet comes in.  

The goal of this paper in the last five or six years has been to inform and amuse, both at the same time. We have kept our regular readers up to date on governmental activities that affect their lives, and have provided a broad platform on which they could publish their reactions to what’s happened.  

We’ve also tried to direct readers to local businesses and entertainment venues, in the belief that “Shop Local” is a good goal, both on behalf of Planet Earth and for the Berkeley Daily Planet. Besides the local tips, this issue includes just one excursion (to the Napa Valley) that will require using a car. There’s no important principle that can’t be illustrated by an occasional exception. 

Some newcomers may wonder about the name of the paper. When the present owners bought the remains of the original Berkeley Daily Planet almost six years ago in a going-out-of business sale, it was just a few pages long, but printed six days a week. We haven’t been any more successful than the previous owners in attracting advertising support from the local merchants, so now there’s just one printed issue each week, with the “daily” reporting now on the Web.  

We’ve managed, against these odds, to keep on putting out a pretty good little publication. We’ve broken some important stories, and won some prizes. This year, for example, our editorial pages have won either first or second prize in our class in the California Newspaper Publishers Association contest—we won’t know which until the awards ceremony next month. Two of our reporters also got awards for their stories this year. 

In today’s paper you’ll find a lot of tips on things to do and places to go. Unlike some other publications, we’ve never coordinated our writers’ recommendations with our advertising. But all the same, it wouldn’t hurt, when you patronize some of the opportunities laid out here for your pleasure, if you suggest to the proprietors that advertising might be a good way to help local newspapers stay alive in a hostile business climate. Tell them that “Shop Local” should apply to advertising buys as well as to groceries. 

In case you haven’t noticed, printed newspapers—not just this one—have come on hard times lately. Advertisers are confronted with a plethora—in the correct sense of “too many”—of choices about where to spend their money, yet at the same time their profits are at risk in the general business slump. And newspapers are suffering as a result.  

Take theaters, for one example. They depend on reviews to let potential patrons know what’s going on. Fewer newspapers, fewer reviews, and, inevitably and eventually, smaller audiences. You’d really think they could figure that out for themselves, but a word to the wise wouldn’t hurt.  

The days of free papers supported only by advertisers might just be coming to an end. It’s been at least two generations since reader subscription revenue contributed substantially to the cost of publishing newspapers, even big metropolitan dailies.  

Now we’re looking once again to our readers to help pay the bills. 

If you like what you read today, there’s another way you can support the paper besides encouraging advertisers. We’re now offering “freewill subscriptions” for Planet fans.  

The basic rate is $10 a month, payable by check or credit card and soon, PayPal. And guess what? No home delivery, you still just take your “free” paper out of the boxes like anyone else. Not much of a deal, true, but it makes you feel good. 

The second level is neighborhood delivery. If you can sign up four or more subcribers in your neighborhood at the $10/month rate, we’ll deliver the papers to a conveniently located home for easy pickup by neighbors.  

And the deluxe way to get your paper is by U.S. mail. If you pay the postage in addition to the $10/month, we’ll put each weekly issue in the mail for next day delivery. Such a deal! 

And finally, we’ll always accept contributions in larger amounts from our really faithful readers. This publication is a very expensive proposition—advertising has never paid more than half of what it costs to publish, and even that percentage is shrinking in this bad economy. You can help. 

Here’s the spot where we should have a drum roll, followed by a long commercial touting the importance of a free press to a free society, but perhaps we can skip that part. Most of our readers, thank goodness, are the kind of people who understand that concept already.  

For a sample of our newest innovation in our quest to bring you the key information you need, watch www.berkeleydailyplanet.com in the next two weeks for on-site coverage of the Democratic and Republican conventions, complete with videos. 

But also take a little time to relax and enjoy Discovering the East Bay. On a planet that’s full of angst, the East Bay is a great place to hang your hat.