Recently articles have appeared in the media regarding
the apparent decrease in circulation and readership of "hardcopy" newspapers.
I began to wonder what I could recommend to an industry facing this kind of issue...
Here are some of my recommendations:
- Return to the days when newspapers were important to readers.
- Return to the actions and policies which made newspapers interesting and popular.
- Leave the "thin" reporting to the cable and network news shows. If it doesn't affect your readers' daily lives, don't publish it, and the vast majority of "news" on TV doesn't really affect our lives.
- Involve mathematics and engineering and science resources and people to improve the accuracy, honesty and relevance of your facts, reporting and articles.
- Wean yourself from the Associated Press. Use them only for "generic" information and non-local "causes."
- You can choose to rreport the news or influence the community. Remember the term "Muckraker"? I suggest: "influence."
- Mine the popular blogsites for topics with the most interest. What are the biggest "causes" on current.com and YouTube.com?
- For many parts of the country, water supplies, electricity supplies, transportation [mass and otherwise], fuel prices and growth are the major issues. Report all sides. Even "global warming."
- Make sure that at least three sides of every issue get a voice, not just left/right - liberal/conservative - Democrat/Republican. Your readership is not a "melting pot;" it's a "salad bowl."
- Use the Web to find issues [input] and publicize your positions [output].
- Give more ink and column-inches to readers' letters. Virtually every topic has at least "pro" and "con" contingents.
- You can choose to report stuff or make a difference in our lives. It is, in the end, your choice.
- You and the video media report accidents and traffic fatalities all the time. What's missing that would help change things? A regularly-appearing chart or table showing, for the last month or so and cumulatively, what percentage of fatalities were wearing seat belts and what percentage were not. From this, some awakening and awareness among teen-age and even older drivers might arise, and some parents might begin to care if their kids are fastening their seat belts every time they start their cars.
- The water shortage is a big deal, and the arguments about "gray water" management need to be given more voice. How about pushing for all new homes to have gray water inlets and outlets built in to their plumbing? Sure, new codes and regulations would be required, but do you start now or twenty years from now? Push for changing codes for existing homes to allow the gray water to be split off from other sewage and push for the City and State to run pipes for gray water collection and return for all homes. Push for subsidies or tax credits for home owners who add cisterns and pumps to their homes for collecting rainwater or gray water. Then we can put a bigger dent into water shortage problems in the future!
- Rather than just ragging and carping about fees, taxes and infrastructure, do some in-depth bottoms-up analysis of the issues. What is the total cost of building and maintaining city water systems? The base price for hooking up any home or building should be some share of that total "infrastructure cost." After that, volume or tiered pricing for volume of water consumed is a consumption tax that can wring excess or wasteful consumption out of the system, the same way any supply-and-demand market works.
- Similarly, do a bottoms-up analysis of our highway and municipal road and bridge infrastructure. What amount of money must be raised from any and all sources to cover the costs of building and replacing roads and bridges. Only after that's complete is it reasonable to determine where to levy the costs, tolls, taxes, user fees, or whatever. But don't forget Falk's 34th Law, or let anyone cover up that fact, either.
- Analyze all other public and private utilities the same way... construction and maintenance costs and how to charge for them.
- If a group wants public transportation like buses, trams or trains, apply the same construction and maintenance bottoms-up analysis, but don't leave out some other considerations... while most transportation models measure cost per mile in miles/gallon or cents/mile, one missing measure tends to be overall speed... miles per hour to get from "here to there." Why leave a car home if it takes someone 20 miles to and from work in half an hour when the alternative is a bus or train that makes the overall trip an hour or two?! Don't leave anything out of the equations which really matter to the consumers!
- No "short-term solution" to any problem or issue should be published or examined without including a Long-Term view, too. A local example is the drought/water-shortage. Conserving water is a short-term solution. Planning and implementing solutions such as enlarging the capacity of reservoirs and moving water from areas of abundance to areas of shortage are "long-term solutions."
That's off the top of my head right now... I'll try to add more in the future for your consideration as they occur to me.
05.21.2008: A Reply from Ken... [my emphasis added...]
The most important thing for any product (and newspapers are no more and no less a product than HP's printers) is to satisfy the needs of their customers. Newspapers accomplished that 50 years ago, but things have changed in two significant ways from that time, which [are] leading to the falling circulation:
1) There are many more locations for people to get extremely timely news (primarily the Internet, whether CNN.com, FoxNews.com, drudgereport.com or YouTube.com, DailyKos.com, TownHall.com), and...
2) Newspapers have officially given up being "All the news that's fit to print" and become "Your advocate for only one side of the story". The New York Times under Pinch Sulzberger is the poster child for this, but USA Today is not far behind. This means that some people are more loyal than ever, but it also means some people have given up paying for something that just makes them mad every morning.
Therefore, newspapers need to attract more customers by satisfying the actual (or creating new) needs of those customers. To do this, they need to understand that their product is useless for timely events, like weather etc, as people are turning to the Internet (and still to TV news, though this is falling off as well) for reports on car chases, police standoffs, fires, floods, etc.
So they need to report on those things which are more long-term. Your examples about tracking change over time is a good one, but how about a regular feature showing weekly, monthly, yearly and multi-year crime statistics for various local areas? Once you got that setup, it would simply be a matter of plugging in the new weeks statistics, and people could get a real sense of how their neighborhood is doing.
Same thing for home prices, wages, unemployment, power usage, water usage, local government expenditures, ie, anything which affects the people in the local community in their daily lives.
The other thing they can do is to report on the background details of the local events (car chases, etc), for which TV and the Internet are particularly ill-equipped due to lack of time/space. Newspapers have the room for those details, and in-depth articles are the reason people savor newspapers. Do analysis pieces, not "breaking news", because "breaking news" is stale before the paper is bundled for delivery.
Flip the order of the sections: local news on the front page, national and world news in section B or C. People are getting the national and world news elsewhere, but there is nobody else covering the local events in depth the way a local newspaper can and should. High school sports should be on the front of the sports section, with the professional teams on the inside. Local charitable and other community events should be on the front page, with whatever foolishness Washington is doing (from AP or whoever) on the inside.
Dramatically expand the "Letters to the Editor" page. Forget the idea of 1/2 of a page in the back of section A as the only place where real people can speak, with the other 1 1/2 pages devoted to the editors and national columnists, make 3, 4 or more pages devoted to lengthy pieces by readers. This will get people involved in the paper, and potentially increase circulation.
I have no idea on how to solve the problem of the radicalization of the newspapers. The newsroom may look diverse in terms of race and gender and sexual orientation, but it is pure group-think and not in any way diverse in terms of opinions. If newspaper publishers were serious about diversity, they would start recruiting people at NRA conventions and Baptist churches and Oral Roberts University as well as at the National Association of Black/Hispanic/Women/Lesbian_and_Gay/Environmental/etc Journalists. But the problem is that the publishers see nothing wrong with the current amount of diversity of opinion (ie, none) in their news rooms, in fact they honestly think this represents progress because anyone who disagrees with them is racist/sexist/homophobe/etc, and they will tolerate anything except intolerance in their newsroom.
Well, That's One, for sure!
|First rev. 05.18.2008 © Copyright 2008 by plusaf. All rights reserved.
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