Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Postings and the Post

If anyone is reading this (other than you, John -- thanks for the call!) please bear with me while I try to find my voice in it.

A big part of this blog will be on saving the print newspaper -- not the exclusive print newspaper, not the "let's hold off on breaking news till the morning" newspaper, but a print newspaper, for the following reasons:

A. We know how to do news in print better than anyone else. We should play to our strengths. We can do video, but TV stations have been doing video for decades. Maybe they know how to do it better than we can? Maybe they have the technological and support infrastructure to do it better? That doesn't mean never do video. That means don't think video is going to save us.

B. The ease of entry to the Internet marketplace, the low cost of doing business, and the faddishness that seems inherent to a world of seemingly infinite choices make it hard to economically support the sort of large operation one needs to cover the news. We need a dedicated channel into people's lives and homes that we control, and thus can charge premium ad rates for. Voila, the printing press and the trucking network!

C. If newspapers had been going great guns and all of a sudden broadband happened and we lost half our circulation, then the Internet would be the problem. We've been losing circulation in real or relative terms for decades. We've been propping up ad revenue with quick fixes since the late 1980s. All this time, people have been telling us what they don't like about newspapers, and we stolidly resist listening to them. (Take jumps. Take the ignominy still rained upon the newspaper business' one great success story of the last 30 years.) So "the Internet is the answer" isn't the only answer.

In line with which, the Washington Post wishes to hear from its readers. It particularly wishes to hear from prime-demographic female readers about what they want in a print newspaper. Good for the Washington Post! Unfortunately, being a newspaper, it can't go too far go out of its way to admit that it wants this information -- that might seem like shilling, or not being objective about yourself. But it's a start. (But if those readers say they want articles that don't jump...)


Andy Bechtel said...

Welcome, David! I'm looking forward to reading your blog. It looks great so far.

Anonymous said...

You wrote: the ignominy still rained upon the newspaper business' one great success story of the last 30 years

Could you be specific about which success, and how it's been drench w/ ignominy?

the Watergate reporting?

But I agree, the Internet can't be all the problem, when the problem began so long ago.

My worry is that the things *I* want from a newspaper (like, just the news, no editorializing, fewer adjectives, some LOCAL coverage, nothing that can be summed up in a quick, zippy caption) are things not wanted by enough people to satisfy the business model.

And, even though i want those things, i don't actually seek them out other places--I just don't have that much time.

Davisull said...

To Tootsnyc:

USA Today, which went from zero circulation to the second-largest broadsheet newspaper in the English language in 25 years (after the Times of India), which employs scores of talented journalists, and which is still regularly reviled as McPaper -- largely because of its emphasis on what readers want to read, and how much time they want to spend reading it.

Anonymous said...

First of all, great to see another blog on press issues -- welcome. Second, glad to know that you're interesting in saving print resources, for a number of good reasons. but don't forget some of the best ideas on the future of media may well come from OUTSIDE the print world. because of that, i want to invite you attend our We Media Miami conference later this month -- if only to get a dose of media optimism:

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem, I think, is that we journalists want the readers to want what we want. But they don't want 40 inches covering the whole history and every detail of a tax bill wending its way through the Legislature, they want to know what it's going to mean for them. If we can tell them in 5 or 10 inches and a chart and they read it, that's good. If they get used to finding what they want to know in the paper, they'll keep taking the paper and then we can slip in the news they "need" along with the news they "want" and still be considered a valuable product.

Denise said...

Lisa wrote:
If they get used to finding what they want to know in the paper, they'll keep taking the paper and then we can slip in the news they "need" along with the news they "want" and still be considered a valuable product.

Is that like the Jessica Seinfeld method of hiding vegetables in the food so kids will eat them?

I try not to take that attitude towards readers, like they're stupid and only I know what's best for them. That sort of arrogance makes them hate us. . .then again, so does the thinking of "us" at all, as separate from the community in which we all live together. . .

Anonymous said...

It sort of is like hiding the vegetables, though, and I in no way meant to imply that readers are stupid. In fact, they're way smarter than most of "us" give them credit for -- they know what they want and they know when we aren't giving it to them. Of course journalists are members of the community. In fact, that is one of the most valuable assets a news organization has -- people who live where they work and know what people are concerned about. But then "we" turn around and write stories for "us," not for readers. They're written the way they've always been written, readers be damned -- "we" think "they" need 40 dense inches on a tax bill (because that's how much information the reporter has gathered, and golly, he talked to ever so many people) so that's what we give them, then they don't read it and say "there's nothing in the paper."