It's not hard to imagine the scene when the mental wolverines of the Copley Press, publishers of the Union-Tribune, gathered to plot their latest campaign to earn the love of all those sassy SUV-drivin' North County soccer moms. They would launch a completely new daily newspaper, exciting the masses and shredding the dead carcasses of their publishing enemies.
But first they would need a really clever name for the new paper.
"How about "North County Tribune'?" one whip-smart junior editor probably tossed out.
"That's lame. How about "North County Herald'?"
"Are the donuts here yet?"
"Focus-we need to come up with a really cool name before the start of The Young and the Restless."
"How about "North County News'?"
"Gosh darn, this is hard."
After months of feverish work, the name they settled on, the standard they would rally around to woo fickle North County readers, was: Today's Local News.
The new paper officially launched in November. It is delivered free to 75,000 homes in North County that, due to some sort of mass hysteria, do not currently receive the U-T.
Although the paper's management has denied it, the move is widely seen as a full frontal assault on the plucky North County Times, the paper with 90,000-plus daily circulation, primarily from Carlsbad to Escondido, which is, coincidentally, the same region targeted by the new free newspaper.
"We see this as threat to our existence," North County Times circulation director Mark Henschen told Editor & Publisher.
The Union-Tribune has long coveted the Times' turf. Like a panting dog, the paper has humped the leg of every latté-gulpin' suburbanite north of Mira Mesa with zoned editions, nifty special sections and in-depth reports on weekend street fairs.
In this sense, the newspaper's executives are not stupid. They see the numbers. North County is flooded with free-spending young families, eager to find grocery coupons. While North Park grows at the rate of something like 10 people a decade, whole cities sprout from the weeds in the North County, a land of milk, honey and potential new subscribers.
To steal a little love from the NC homeboys, U-T execs have tried every trick in the Junior Newspaper Ranger Handbook-opening bureaus, stealing reporters from community papers and launching special advertising blitzes, backed by really cool Power Point presentations.
The results have been remarkably consistent. The more the U-T tries to be the North County's one and only paper the more it has failed miserably. It is no more the North County's paper today than it was 20 years ago, when no one went to Oceanside unless they wanted to fight a Marine for a hooker's love. Even as North County explodes, the Union-Tribune's circulation continues to slide, a statistically amazing feat, considering the sheer volume of immigrants to the region.
Meanwhile, the North County Times chugs along, growing steadily. It will never be compared to The New York Times, but it is relentlessly local and undeniably committed to chronicling the internal squabbles of community planning commissions and the assistant baseball coach who can spit a sunflower seed more than 20 feet.
The Union-Tribune has always been seen as the arrogant outsider, parachuting in to cover the country folks "up there" in North County. It's famous for ignoring stories broken by the local papers, staffing the region with green reporters and scoffing at the type of petty neighborhood disputes that are the lifeblood of a community paper.
Today's Local News supposedly represents a new approach, based on the very shrewd and accurate assumption that the Union-Tribune is no longer in "growth mode." But it's hard to imagine Today's Local News electrifying advertisers and changing the primordial soup of North County publishing, unless it veers off course and starts running pictures of naked dancing girls.
As a freebie, it comes across like a heavy-handed attempt to muscle in on the action at any cost, the big boys blowing off some bucks to undercut the market, an approach that may not thrill local advertisers, who generally like the idea of the North County Times as an alternative to the Union-Tribune, especially when those pricks at the U-T try to raise ad rates.
Instead of going for quality, the U-T saved a few bucks and stocked up on frisky young reporters, apparently under the belief that North County yokels can't tell the difference between experienced and inexperienced reporters. Instead of offering readers a true alternative daily paper, Today's Local News promises a form of News Lite-"colorful photographs, short articles and information about your community"-giving the whole enterprise a perky Chamber of Commerce tone.
"The North County Times tries to be comprehensive on regional and local news. We are going to be just local," Local News executive editor Cindy Allen told the San Diego Business Journal.
In others words, if you're one of those wild free thinkers who might actually want some of that awfully complicated national and international news, you're still going to need to subscribe to a real paper. That's a fairly bizarre strategy for whipping up frenzied devotion among North County readers: Read Today's Local News, the newspaper that doesn't even try to be "comprehensive."
The paper may have a clever new name, but it sure sounds like the ol' U-T.
Write to MsBeak1@aol.com and editor@SDcitybeat.com.