Posted November 25, 2009 10:24 am by with 7 comments

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Newspapers CollageI have spent a considerable amount of time in the past year watching the decline and fall of the newspaper empire. At times I have had a ‘you get what you pay for’ take on the situation while at others I find it sad that an important industry is in a rapid downward spiral. Now add to the mix the musings / rantings of Rupert Murdoch and his thought that he can revive his industry through his proposed tactics and you are close to a three ring circus with all clowns and no ringmaster.

You see, when I get the most value out of a newspaper it really has nothing to do with the hard news. In fact, I have already heard most of the news that I care about before a newspaper gets my fingers dirty (which I think is one of the cool things about newspapers because there are fewer tactile experiences in the online world). What I devour though in the newspaper is any investigative reporting. Anything that took time to compile and either promotes someone doing good or exposes someone doing bad. That’s one place where the printed ‘news’ works well. There could be others as well.

I would like to propose some possible solutions / options for newspapers to consider.

  • Let hard news ‘reporting’ be online and embrace it. The Internet is becoming a more real time medium and the printed word will not be able to compete. As a result, I would love to see in a newspaper a 4-6 page section that is just chock full of snip-its about news items. Just the facts. No opinions. Just a strong aggregation of the high points and no one’s opinion attached. Let me decide what to do next after you have gathered it up for me. Stop telling me what to think.
  • Tell me what you think but don’t force me to think it. Now I am not suggesting that you go the Newsweek route and just have all op-eds all the time because quite frankly I hate that format. It’s arrogant and it is designed to divide and conquer. We have enough divisiveness in this world. What if you just had a strong stable of consistent op-ed type players who clearly identify where there allegiance is and then provide that content for their audience as the other side of the ‘news’. If I don’t like one or the other then I either don’t read it or, even better, I read it to be better informed. Present both sides of arguments REGULARLY as part of your format rather than trying to look balanced by occasionally bringing in someone from the other side as a sacrificial lamb for your readers to offer up to their ideological god.
  • Be truly balanced. Stop taking sides for goodness sake. This Washington Post v Washington Times, right v. left crap is just that. Crap. I would LOVE to see a newspaper talk evenly about both sides of the same coin. That would take guts but I think there is a real market for it. I would read that one for sure.
  • Recognize the real audience. The printed word is more for the thinker, the ponderer (I made that word up so sue me) and the person who wants to digest the news. Online is for the ADHD world we live in of ‘read and reject’ and ‘consume and dsipose’. The quick hit. The surface player. Let the online world serve the ‘real-timers’ and you serve the thinkers. Since an investigative technique takes time to put together there won’t be the ‘it’s old news before the ink hits the paper’ issue.
  • Make a difference. As I stated earlier I think that a newspaper that was out there uncovering the good, the bad and the ugly of the world with long-term investigative pieces that dig deep and create change and impact would be awesome. You would have less staff because you were not concentrating on the minutiae of each insignificant story. Leave that to the online quick hit environment. Be a true change agent. I would pay for that and I think advertisers would to.
  • Embrace bloggers and tweeters. Rather than view the real time nature of the web as a threat and somehow ‘beneath your standards’ embrace it for your readers and help them sift through it. What if you put yourself in the position of telling your dedicated readers that “we trust this or that blog” because of the following reasons. That would be cool. Bloggers would then be a much different animal if your could have a frienemy or co-opetition like relationship rather than a completely adversarial one.
  • Let the engines index your content. This one’s easy. Don’t be an idiot.
  • Stop playing political games. You report news not set public opinion. When you choose sides you actually lose credibility. That’s not reporting that is campaigning.

As always there is more and I would love to hear your thoughts. If there is a paper that is doing some or all of these please let me know. Where else could newspapers evolve and take full advantage of the new world media order rather than act like there is a way to preserve their no longer relevant status quo?

Thanks for reading and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

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  • DonAlons

    The British Guardian had an interesting article some time ago. They compared the
    (British) papers of today to what they were 25 years ago. And I guess that applies to
    for other countries as well, what media became.
    The article begins with:
    “How did readers know what to think in 1984? Once you get over the minuscule, blurred pictures and the lack of colour, the first thing that strikes you about the newspapers of that year is the paucity of opinionated columnists. The finger-jabbing, red-faced anger of today’s commentariat, the passionate, omniscient certainty with which they declare opinions, scarcely existed 25 years ago …”

    So much news, but so little comment

  • “Be truly balanced”

    The problem with this isn’t just that it’s impossible…it’s that there’s just not enough of a market to make it worth it. People like to think they’re balanced, but almost no one really is. So people would expect a “truly balanced” newspaper to reflect their views, more or less. And if it didn’t, they’d just think it was biased for the other side. It’s all relative to your perspective, and almost no one has a balanced perspective anymore. It’s a tough problem to solve in some ways, but in other ways, I’m not sure that we need to perpetuate the myth that both sides of every argument deserve equal time and consideration.

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  • If only all newspaper readers could see things so clearly. Of course, the majority probably do and only read the tabloids for a laugh.

  • It ‘a difficult problem to solve in some way, but certainly in many situations there is a proper respect for so many considerations. Should really reconsider the view of the thing.