The FM Extra
From The Infomercantile
The FM Extra
|Phone:||218-284-1288 or 877-674-2688|
|Web:||The FM Extra.com|
The FM Extra was first published in May 2002 as the Clay County Extra, a supplement to the Clay County Union, a small paper from Ulen, Minnesota. The paper's original purpose, according to editor John Kolness, was "to bridge the gap between our rural readers and the businesses in Fargo and Moorhead..." In 2005, the name was changed to the FM Extra.
The paper harkens to the common idea of a small-town paper, written by and for the locals, and that does well for the FM Extra. Much of the content is written by local columnists, ranging from expatriates from other local papers to colorful pseudonymned characters, and gives the paper a friendly vibe. Non-opinion columns address local interests, such as interviews with the mall manager or new police chief, and the newsier sections pertain local issues. Much of the content clearly has the senior community in mind as the core audience. This clear interest in identifying the paper's audience and writing to cater to that audience is a shining example of how a newspaper benefits from clear insight into its purpose.
It would be nitpicky to point out various typographic and editorial problems I've caught in the past, especially since I've found similar spelling and grammatical errors in other local papers as well (and, no doubt, this website is rife with them as well). However, since the FM Extra teeters on the razor edge between "quaintly appealing" and "kitschy trainwreck" (and I use both terms lovingly, don't get me wrong), shaving off the rough "zine"-ish edges would show a greater respect for the content and remove any hint of casual sloppiness. It is possible -- and in my opinion, more desirable -- for the FM Extra to be a small newspaper, without treating itself as a little newspaper.
Flawed Internet Integration
Unlike the Valley Midweek Marketplace, the FM Extra does provide content online, in the form of a PDF version of their paper and graphic 'screenshots' of each page. While Google is somewhat able to index PDF content, individual articles and pieces of content are not directly linkable, removing any possibility of bringing in referential traffic from blogs or building a Pagerank. In terms of organization, it removes the ability to organize or sort content in any form other than by publishing date, rather than being able to browse all of Soo Asheim's or Larry Gauper's articles without jumping from issue to issue. The internet excels at flexible organization, and distribution online via a PDF defeats this flexibility. The use of graphic images of each page to distribute content shows an enormous lack of understanding of the internet's accessibility. Advocates of disabled internet users unanimously object to encoding text in a graphic image, because it defeats accessibility features of web browsers that allow the blind (or otherwise reading-hindered) to partake in website content. Descriptive links, using the title of the column on that particular page, connect users from the front page to the specific pages, but the actual page linked to is described by its page number only -- a frustratingly un-internetty way to identify a webpage. Both a PDF download and individual graphic page devour an enormous amount of bandwidth compared to text, and no doubt the rural readers, the claimed core of the FM Extra's target market, are regularly frustrated by the length of time it takes to download even a single page of content over their slower dial-up connections.
This does, however, demonstrate that the editors of the FM Extra recognize the importance of having access to their paper on the internet, but lack the expertise to properly integrate the internet into their publishing process. The flat-form newspaper is still a vital method of community communication due to its persistence of form and transportability; the internet is vital in its ability to rearrange and select information according to a specific user's tastes. The FM Extra does the first well; the latter, not so much.
Recommendation: The FM Extra needs to consult someone who has the technical savvy to take the PDF content and convert it -- possibly automatically -- to a web-based format so that search engines, bloggers, and aggregators can access individual 'chunks' of content without having to download an entire issue or figure out how to interpret pixels. Bells and whistles like discussions, comments, or blogs are not as necessary as proper organization, such as a detailed search engine (native, not borrowing Google) to make content readily accessible to those desiring it. As the paper touts its worldwide reach, it will be of greater interest to advertisers if the online content was an actual draw for readers.
September 2007 Addendum
In early September 2007, the FM Extra further obfuscated access to their newspaper by wrapping the already difficult-to-parse PDF file inside a Macromedia-format "Flashpaper" Flash viewer. While Google and other search engines do have the ability to provide some searchability within PDFs, enclosing the PDF within a Flash viewer completely eliminates the world's ability to find the FM Extra without already knowing it exists. It is as though the FM Extra put all of their hard-copy newprint papers in an unmarked cardboard box, shoved it under a parked car somewhere in Hawley, MN, and only gave directions to people who explicitly asked where the papers went. One would think that a newspaper that places its print-copies in as many publicly-available places as possible would easily translate the same concept to the internet, but it seems to have slipped their and their webdesigners' grasps.
Newspapers and web-designers alike fail to realize that a large portion of website traffic comes from people who never knew the website existed before and arrive by searching for a term. Those searchers, in theory, are highly-retainable readers if their search results succeed in finding what they're looking for. The FM Extra, by hiring a web designer, spent what appears to be a significant amount of money to reduce their potential audience even further. The FM Extra maight be exactly what an online visitor is looking for, but a huge amount of effort has been devoted to making sure those readers never find the FM Extra online.
- ↑ "Happy Birthday, FM Extra!" Publisher's Notebook, 18 May 2007, The FM Extra