Recently, I talked about how publishing needs to embrace electronic formats more vigorously if it hopes to get through the current slump. (Financially eviscerating a few bank CEO’s and fixing the banking industry might help, too. Different rant.) One of the things I talked about was how publishing needs to ween itself from its dependence on newspapers for marketing. Why?
Because newspapers need to figure out what they wanna be when they grow up. It’s sad, because the days of the classic print journalism are pretty much done. Oh, it still exists in magazines, which appear weekly or monthly. But the daily newspaper you read over coffee or while riding the train or bus has become hopelessly stagnant.
Part of the problem is they still haven’t figured out 24-hour cable news. Never mind the Internet. Oh, papers have online presence, but sometimes, it’s a bit wanting. For instance, The Dayton Daily News has one of the most horrendous web sites. Try finding contact info on their. Most other papers, from the Cincinnati Enquirer to the Chicago Tribune to some of the New York dailies throw up a quick age and ZIP code check before letting you read your first article. That’s particularly annoying if you read on multiple computers or clean out your Internet cache very often.
But here’s the real problem. You buy things because you want something they offer. So, with the Cincinnati Enquirer, what’s in it for me? There is no local news in the paper that I haven’t seen on Fox19 the night before, no national news I don’t already get from CNN, no updates or weather I don’t already get on the radio or from the Weather Channel’s web site. The news is usually stale by the time the paper hits the street.
So are papers irrelavant? Yes and no. I read Time both online and at the doctor’s office. I grab magazines all the time. They come out once a week. Other than those idiotic sports previews that predict the baseball or football seasons based on information out of date before the previous season’s World Series or Superbowl, the magazines actually take advantage of the lag in news, using their web sites to cull information, tease readers, and build up a story that shows up in print each week.
Surely, newspapers can find a way to exploit the 24-hour lag. CNN and especially Fox News are prone to hysterical and badly edited stories churned out mainly to fill the 24-hour news cycle. Wouldn’t be great if newspapers, frozen out of scooping anyone by sheer temporal mechanics, position themselves as the thoughtful voice of reason, analyzing the previous day’s events with a cool head?
Another issue is the sheer terror with which newspapers try to hold onto its shrinking over-54 audience. Berkley Breathed, creator of Bloom County, Outland, and Opus, once said in an interview that newspapers are so afraid to alienate this audience that they do nothing to attract new readers for fear of lost readership.
And what a loss that’s leading to. Locally, we’ve lost the Cincinnati Post, the respected afternoon daily in the Queen City. The Post provided a much needed cooler head to the Enquirer‘s sometimes-shrieking headlines. (The Cincinnati Police once had to take the Enquirer‘s editoral staff to task for turning a low murder rate into something resembling… um… Washington, DC’s?) More recently, the Post‘s sister paper, the Rocky Mountain News, folded. The Rocky Mountain News was one of the icons among daily newspapers. Gone.
So what’s the solution?
- Exploit the 24-hour news lag rather than let it drag papers down. Let CNN and Fox and the Internet news outlets be in the scoop business. Follow the magazines’ lead and provide the more thoughtful insight to what’s happened the day before.
- Embrace the Internet. Don’t just make the web site Daily News Rag Lite. Actually, I seldom watch CNN and MSNBC and Fox. I read their web sites. (Saves me from having to listen to Hannity or James Carville’s inane rants.)
- On the same note, newspapers such as the New York Times, have already embraced Twitter. While I wasn’t impressed with it, it is one of the uses I saw for it. In my brief twittage, the Times were one of the feeds I followed.
- Seek out that younger audience. Already, there’s at least one or two generations for whom the newspaper is a quaint relic. Without content geared toward younger audiences. Like the funny pages. Yes, it’s wonderful you run Classic Peanuts, but who in the hell still follows Mary Worth?
It doesn’t have to be the end of newspapers. They do have to change, though. No one reads broadsheets anymore, so why shouldn’t the newspapers change for again?