Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What is the key to survival for newspapers?

The survival of newspapers is a topic I’ve written about many times on this blog. Other academics and media groups are concerned with the same issue as larger newspapers continue to suffer from circulation loss.

Smaller newspapers (weeklies) and holding their own and some are even showing growth. Why is that? One of the main reasons is that these smaller newspapers are closer to their communities and their readers. The readers of community newspapers (small dailies and weeklies) feel a connection to the publication and they can identify with the newspaper.

If that is a strong suit for a small newspaper then there must be a disconnect between metro newspapers and the reader. Weekly newspapers cannot afford that type of disconnect.

A commentary in the December 2006 issue of Editor & Publisher by John Fredericks suggests that larger newspapers know this disconnect exists, they just don’t know what to do about it.

Frederick’s lists several suggestions for removing this disconnect. For starters, he notes that the return on investment (ROI) a reader receives from time spent “engaging with the content” of the newspaper determines the paper’s value to the reader. He contends that metros are not valuing readership as they should.

“Readers are fleeing because the content most major newspapers provide is not giving them an ROI on their time invested,” Fredericks wrote. “It’s that simple. Once again the basic principles of microeconomics trump the experts! The industry’s response is (similar) to the Queen of France 200 years ago. When posed with a similar dilemma, she boldly responded, ‘Let them eat cake.’ If memory serves me correctly, she was beheaded.”

In the November issue of Editor & Publisher, a commentary by Mark Moore, former editor-in-chief of Metro U.S., publisher of free, daily newspapers in three metropolitan areas, posed the question of what metro newspapers have to do to counter the readership trend and answered it this way: “Give the readers what they want.”

Moore, in his comments, offers some interesting ideas on what constitutes giving readers what they want. Two that are sure not to receive wholehearted endorsement are: embrace the tabloid format because it’s easier to read and to use, and have free circulation rather than paid. Internet competition makes paying for information seem archaic, and young readers especially know they don’t have to pay for their news, Moore says.

His other suggestions include writing succinct, informative, useful stories and using graphics and information/summary boxes to aid the reader; making readers regular contributors to the newspaper, especially as columnists; hiring young reporters and listening to their ideas; focusing on local news remembering that “quality trumps quantity;” stop endorsing political candidates; and get rid of editorial pages.

Those last two are controversial, to say the least.

Giving readers what they want is important to the survival of newspapers in American. However, does giving readers what they want harm a newspaper’s credibility? Should readers also be given information deemed important and useful for them to know even if they might not want it?

I’d be interested to know your comments.


Blogger David said...

If bloggers are taking market share from newspapers, why don't newspapers buy the bloggers out or hire them? If a blogger in a given local region is generating significant traffic to his site, I would say that it is a sign of talent on the part of the blogger and the local newspaper should hire him. The blogosphere offers an excellent opportunity for newspapers to find journalistic talent, does it not?

7:54 PM, May 16, 2007  

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