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Can the self-destruction of the newspaper industry be stopped before it’s too late?

The past few days in the newspaper industry have been a long time coming. The easy explanation for the announced reduction in daily editions in New Orleans, Alabama, and Canada would be to blame the internet. This is only a bit true. The downward spiral of newspapers began years, even decades, ago. They just got greedy.

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This is Sunday’s edition of The Tennessean side by side with the August 9, 1945 edition of the defunct Nashville Banner. The first thing that grabs me is that the Banner page is almost twice as large as the one from The Tennessean. The second thing that grabs me is how the front page of The Tennessean is full of white space and filler. The graphic above the masthead takes up nearly one-fourth of the whole page!

The Banner is full of actual news. In fact, it overflows with news – hence the name NEWSPAPER!
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The actual news started disappearing from the pages of the newspaper in the 70’s. The newspapers themselves made the decisions to shrink pages and publish less actual news because they felt invincible and wanted to increase profits. There was no internet – it’s not like we could go somewhere else for content. They provided less but we kept paying the subscription bill every month because it was a routine. So, they basically “trained” all of us to look elsewhere for the news and by the time the internet came along, our reliance on newspapers was already waning.

There is no value for me in the “metro” newspaper of today. I only buy the Sunday edition at the store. I would subscribe but the paper won’t redeliver if they miss you and they miss a lot. Since most companies are only concerned about value to their shareholders so they are going to get as profitable as possible at whatever cost it takes, what I see as value really doesn’t matter to them. That’s why we’ll see more newspapers getting rid of Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. It’s a vicious cycle and there is no stopping it.

Oddly, newspapers create much more bang for the buck for local advertisers than the internet does. The internet is great if you are Coca-Cola and you can have ads popping up all over. It’s not as good for the local plumber or the hair salon. Local companies get lost in the sea of information and rapid-fire mouse clicks. It’s just about impossible to target the right people on the internet when you are a local business. This is why local papers are doing somewhat better than metro or statewide papers.

Check out sports from last Sunday compared to August 9, 1945:
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There is probably more content in one page from 1945 than in the entire sports section now.
I can breeze through the Sunday paper in 20 minutes. I bet it took all day of going back and forth to get through it in 1945. That’s value.

If newspapers want to be around in 20 years, they need to take some $$ from the shareholders and put them back in the paper. Get some reporters. Fill the paper with content. Quit looking at the internet as a competitor. Also, don’t give all of the content away free on the internet but use the internet as a tool.

Embrace citizen journalism to cover the holes in your reporting staff. . Put summaries online teasing about the DETAIL that will be in the paper tomorrow. Get in depth. Investigate some things. Get a little controversial once in a while. Grab all of the funny stories off the police blotter and fill up a whole section of that. GET LOCAL. Cover all of the stories that failures like Patch and Examiner can’t cover.

Also, with all of this technology, why are the graphics from today’s paper so boring and stale? Fred Russell’s logo is better than anything in our paper today. Our columnists just look blah when the presentation should make them look like stars.
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Newspapers don’t have to be over. People want to read. People love the feel of newsprint. People want to sit in the crapper or on the bus or out on the deck reading from something that doesn’t have to be charged or can’t be read in direct sunlight. And, people would like to read all of the stories they have to get across multiple internet sites today all in one place.

Finally, I work in front of a computer so I love my time away from the computer. A newspaper does that. It’s a break. There are no instant message popups. There are no email notifications. It’s an escape. We just need someone to provide that escape correctly. Someone, somewhere, is going to fix newspapers – I hope. And, the best way to do it is to look back at the 40’s and 50’s.

Comments

  1. My husband and I have this conversation at least once a week. We do subscribe to the Tennessean and, every morning, I am amazed that this thing actually passes for a newspaper. I remember my parents getting The Tennessean every morning and The Nashville Banner every afternoon. And I never heard them complaining about content overlap. Today's newspaper is little more than a pamphlet. And the simple fact is I am lazy. Sure, I could go searching around the internet and find all the news stories I might ever need but I don't want to. I just want someone to put them all together, print them and then throw the whole deal in my driveway. Is that so hard?

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