Thursday, November 17, 2005

Newspapers

Here at the paper we had a seminar a week ago, where a seasoned editor and journalism instructor gave us a pretty clear message that print journalism's days are numbered. And while some of the reporters and designers I work with shook their heads and muttered "no ways" I have to admit I agree with him. It's my slack-assed generation's fault, too. I don't even read the paper. I can't remember the last time I read any paper cover to cover that wasn't a free weekly. There are journalists who love the smudgy tactile experience that is print. I'm not one of them.

But what got to me is that the guy's solutions to decreased readership were mostly about writing snappier heds and ledes and placing photographs more appealingly on the page. Style, not substance. This bothered me, but I didn't say anything. My thought is that newspapers are failing because Americans can get their news elsewhere, and it is becoming a world where people can get the news they want to see, in a way they want to see it, from sources they want to trust. This is kind of scary, because I see a future where people will no longer get the information they need, preferring instead to read only the news they want.

This isn't good. For a number of reasons. While people who want to be informed will probably be fine, and will remain more or less in the loop about what they need to know, there are vast numbers of Americans who do not care. They will never be informed unless information is thrust upon them. These people will be lost in a world where news is offered a la carte. In many ways, they already are. Americans love what is bad for them: steak pizza, Coors light, Marlboros and ignorance. It's not just print that they are ignoring. It's everything.

There's no amount of sexing up you can do to a headline that will recapture this audience.

7 comments:

  1. Good insight. But forget the Coors -- gimme Schlitz!

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  2. As long as people's eyes get worse, iPod's will not replace newspaper read while riding public transit to work. Ain't gonna happen.

    Actually I agree with the conclusion of you and your professor about the probable demise of newspapers as we know them, but I don't think they're going to become extinct like the dinosaur. They'll evolve, in someways quickly, in others more slowly.

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  3. i thought the newspaper more or less died after 9-11: did you find yourself thanking the news gods for **fill in appropriate local newspapers here** and the incisive analysis they provided in late 2001? how they picked apart colin powell's 2002 u.n. presentation? how they provided the communities they served - communities with a substantial military population, like denver's - perspective in the run up to the iraq war?

    bob woodward, judy miller - that's where the newspaper's at. while the investigative bits are better and generally more in depth, the newspaper is still a function of power. and the nitwits who blathered on about making things more "snappy", can't see past hoary old bullshit like "objectivity" and have new paranoia over blogs - if the newspaper's dead, they deserve what's coming to them.

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  4. Have to agree with you and all your insightful conclusions. Especially the part about people wanting the news they want instead of the news they need. Not to insert a political point into an apolitical post, but I see this as the end result of the 40 year long conservative war against the media.

    When several generations have come of age having heard the whine about biased media (coming from a movement that considers anything that doesn't parrot its own line as "biased" against it) repeated so often that it's become accepted truism, this is what happens -- people don't want to accept objectivity as truth, preferring insteaed to hear their own opionions reflected back at them so that they can continue to believe as they do.

    Add new media that allow the proliferation of opinion as news, and the process is simply accelerated.

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  5. You are not going to improve newspaper readership by firing reporters and consolidating content.

    Local reporting will sell local newspapers. You can't get that anywhere else. How many radio stations still have news departments in the age of Clear Channel, and TV stations are going the same way.

    I stopped taking the local puppy trainer when they cut back on local columnists and local news. I can get the AP, UPI, et al. on-line.

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  6. Agreed, change stlye.

    Wide swath pictorials. Direct marketing of aromatic strips for scented candles or perfums and colognes.

    Make the pages an experience. open them and a world of sight and smell takes you into it.

    An entire calendar page full of sales items and promotions for community events and holdiays for each month.

    Payday editions.

    Literally make the paper something worth being part of for a lunch break. A must read.

    It has to be ambitious but there are people talented enough within each community to do so. Eseentially it will become an extension of artistry.

    But the big rags and their AP lines full of regurgibabble are on the way out.

    It has to become more 'people centric' now.

    Hell make an extra section of funny pages to meet people's reading level. No childish minds left behind...

    Certain days of the week for a feature page. You'll see locals have to help establish such an identity. Majors can do so and we've seen as much already with reality shows and infotainment.


    Smaller scope publications will have more soul to it and be less of the blander mass marketed variety. A niche and market demand is there and not suitably tapped.


    The papers will go the way of the expressive, the artistic. Which means I'll stop reading them. Still the idea of feedback(expaning editorial pages) will be another way to make people identify with the words therein and purchase content.

    Mr.Murder

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  7. I think giant, full-color weather maps are the way to go.

    And Coors Light is bad for you? Has TV been lying to me?

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