George Cogswell III would appear to be an unlikely figurehead for the daily newspaper industry in the Tri-Counties.
The publisher of the Ventura County Star has been on the job for just one year. He’s had to bite the bullet and make sweeping job cuts. He’s not a newsman by training. He doesn’t even sit on the editorial board of the newspaper.
But don’t get Cogswell wrong. He is a serious student of the newspaper business. And he has a bit of an improvised plan for transforming what is by far the biggest daily newspaper in the region into a hybrid print-digital news and advertising platform.
A circulation guy by training, he’s old-school enough to dust off some old tricks. And he has been around just long enough to have impressed some of the key movers and shakers in Ventura County.
I’m not predicting ultimate success for all things Cogswell.
The daily newspaper industry is in a really tough spot, as evidenced by ongoing layoffs at the San Luis Obispo Tribune and by the fledgling Santa Barbara Daily Sound’s decision to drop its Monday edition.
But after listening to his Feb. 3 talk at the Corporate Leaders Breakfast at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, it was clear he has a better grasp of the problems than the Santa Barbara News-Press, the Tribune and the Santa Maria Times.
Cogswell described the dailies’ plight as a “litany of ills” that includes fierce competition from Craigslist, the online classified powerhouse. In just a few short years, Craigslist has captured 98 percent of the online advertising for merchandise for sale — market share that almost certainly belonged to the print version of the Star back in the 20th century.
These days, according to Cogswell, the Star gets about 20 percent of its revenue online, a growing share but not nearly enough to offset the cost of news operations. That won’t happen until 2012 at the earliest.
So, Cogswell has brought back some 83 hawkers, who sell the Sunday newspaper for $1, adding approximately 5,000 sales per week. “Some people say print is dead, but I don’t think so,’’ he said, adding that he’s nixed the idea of dropping Monday circulation or any other day.