Everything seems to be dead nowadays, depending on whom you ask. Print is dead. Blogging is dead. The Web is dead. But ask Eric Richardson and he’ll tell you all three are definitely alive, and show you a truly multimedia publication to prove it.
Richardson is the publisher of blogdowntown, a lifestyle-focused neighborhood website founded in 2005 that caters to downtown Los Angeles. Five years later, as print publications shift their emphasis online, he’s swimming against the current and expanding his blog into a dead-tree newspaper.
Richardson launched the sixteen-page tabloid blogdowntown weekly in August. Covering the usual grab bag of local news—new restaurants, development—it takes a lighter approach than the two other papers in the area, the business-focused weekly Los Angeles Downtown News and the Daily News, a minor competitor to the Los Angeles Times. It’s distributed for free in coffee shops and hipster boutiques throughout the city center, a part of town that long existed primarily between nine and five and is now buzzing with a resurgent residential population.
While he expects the website will remain the focus of operations, the expansion to print is not mere nostalgia. It’s business. Richardson, twenty-eight, sees a market for readers and advertisers who are simply attracted to print but not the Web. At least for now.
“I want us to be putting out content wherever our readers are,” Richardson says. “If all of our readers are out there with iPads, we need to be on the iPad. And if all of our readers are just going to be reading us online, we’ll just be online. As long as we’re able to make sense out of getting to people in print, we’ll be in print.”
By building its readership base online, blogdowntown was able to confidently venture into the third dimension. “They sort of reversed the formula,” says Marc Cooper, director of the digital news program at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
“We’re still a long way from saying that it actually works,” cautions Richardson, who concedes that his three-person staff is just covering costs. And that’s not so bad when you consider the massive monetary bleeding most major city newspapers are suffering. “But I think the difference is what we’re doing is really targeted at a very local neighborhood level.”
Being locally focused helps keep distribution costs down for the paper, which prints 15,000 copies a week and delivers them on Danish-made tricycles with deep black tubs between their two front wheels—part of a deal with a local bike shop that’s also an advertiser.