Craigslist was recently the target of this bitter little editorial in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. It received some smart(er) responses, including this one analyzing the UI of Craigslist and in particular, this rant by Anil Dash. Dash sheds some light on the decision-making of alternative weekly newspapers and in my experience working for one, I saw much of the same.
A few months before I left the paper, I saw the classifieds department get a big revitalization. They knew this Craigslist thing had been cutting into their business and they wanted to compete. I even remember someone exclaiming something like, “Craigslist thinks they can just just offer listings for free!” So they started offering more free online classifieds and they moved towards a classifieds web redesign, but it was too little, too late. Craigslist was already there and it had been there long enough to work out the kinks of all of the above. Not to mention continue expanding to countless new cities month after month.
In the rest of Dash’s post he suggests that weekly newspapers should embrace the space and the freedom that the web allows. Let the writers write as much as they want and as often as they want. Take advantage of nearly endless resources. If your business is words and pictures printed on whitespace, well, have I got an invention for you! It’s good to see some moves in the right direction, but I think the classifieds war is over. This little site, full of links, and free to post has turned things upside-down.
Is the move to blogging and web-publishing too late for these papers? They’re entering an arena that’s already got new methods for event listings, news, editorials, and reviews. I’m sure there’s still something to be said for a more tangible local voice and the comfort of newsprint, but the ball’s now in a different court.