Thursday, November 16, 2006

What would restore readership? More local coverage.

Print journalism continues to face declining readership. The answer, however, is the same as it was when I began my career as a weekly newspaper editor: more local content. Readers of the Cross Country Times didn't want to read about events elsewhere. They wanted to read about the people and events of northwestern Greene County. Our circulation zoomed upward, by the way, once we started refining that local focus. After I left, the newspaper circulation zoomed downward when another editor decided to report more on Springfield events than on Ash Grove, Walnut Grove and Willard.

Andrew Cline's Rhetorica blog often explores journalism issues from an academic viewpoint. One of his recent posts offers the same common-sense solution declining readership that I used 20 years ago: local content.

Dr. Cline goes into detail about what has not worked:

Here's a radical idea, a stupid idea, and idea so far out in the ozone as to be thoroughly without merit: Try taking citizens seriously; try treating them as citizens rather than consumers.

It's the one thing American journalism has yet to try in recent history. Shortening stories didn't work. More graphics didn't work. Putting fluff above the flag didn't work. Targeting free publications to young people didn't work. Shrinking the news hole didn't work. Cutting editorial staff didn't work. Cutting foreign news didn't work. Running wire fluff didn't work. Ignoring the poor and working class in favor of the middle class didn't work. Partnering with the advertising department didn't work. Specialty publications aimed at the rich didn't work. Re-design after re-design after re-design didn't work.

Randy Turner of The Turner Report comes to the same conclusion on his blog entry about this topic. He also offers to specific examples of how local coverage improved newspapers he worked out. Randy also has this to add:

Unfortunately today's newspaper publishers and business managers (most likely on orders from corporate suits who have never written a story in their lives) have decided that the only way to make profit from newspapers to create a flurry of niche publications and special sections. The daily newspaper has almost become an afterthought.

What are your thoughts?


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