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ah newspapers, how i love thee

January 14, 2008

so everyone and their dog is talking about the demise of newspapers. the topic has even made it into pop culture, most recently in the newest season of The Wire (great line from the 20 minute promo: “You don’t do more with less. You do less with less.”) and a recent episode of The Simpsons where during election-mania in Springfield, the following happened during a CNN-type show:

Dan Rather-type, introducing a political panel: “… and Ron Mahar, a print journalist from the Washington Post.”
Nelson Muntz, pointing at print journalist: “Ha ha! Your medium is dying.”
Principal Seymour Skinner: “Nelson!”
Nelson: “But it is.”
Skinner: “There’s being right and then there’s being nice.”

so what should newspapers do to increase readership while still making a buck? let’s face it, giving the product away for free (as most are currently doing) is unsustainable. no kidding every newspaper is cutting down it’s local news and instead buying news from whatever the cheapest wire source is available – they are giving away their online content for free!

the New York Times offered TimesSelect- content exclusive to subscribers (cost of subscription: 49.95$) – until recently. that ended on September 19, 2007 and they now rely on the advertising on the site for revenue. this follows a number of other newspaper sites which offered paid content, and then saw online readership decrease.

i see the online presence of newspapers as a forum ripe for new content. on top of allowing readers to discuss articles in forums, newspapers could offer so much more additional content on their website, and people would be willing to pay for it!

for example, one of the most interesting events in ANY newsroom is the late afternoon news meeting where stories are presented by editors and when “newsworthiness” is determined. now i can see why editors are nine kinds of freaked out about having these made public – what if it comes out you didn’t know about a story/didn’t fight for it and it ended up being huge? or when some great (but tragic) art gets spiked in favour of local pets being blessed by the Catholic Cardinal? (never happens…) either way, wouldn’t the discussions started by this transparency ultimately benefit both the creators and users of the newspaper? and wouldn’t it create a tighter bond between the two sides, possibly increasing pride in the product? (or am I totally nuts and think too much of readers and editors?)

of course users aren’t willing to pay to read the “just” the news. between the internet, and frankly the radio (i *heart* CBC radio), why would they pick up a newspaper? radio covers local issues better, and national/international is well covered by the internet.

newspapers MUST add content to their sites. to say that at the moment they are doing what they can is simply brushing off a section of the population who would be thrilled to return to getting their news from a local newsroom, if not from the actual printed paper.

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