Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Only In the Newspaper Business

The Daily Mirror in London is redesigning. The Daily Mirror says it is doing this because of competitive pressure. Cool.

The Daily Mirror in 2008 is responding to competitive pressure it first noticed in 1969. Not cool.

Associate editor Matt Kelly says: “In 1903, the Mirror invented the concept of popular journalism – at one stage it sold seven million copies in one day. It didn’t do that without being innovative and brilliant. But it lost its way 40 years ago when Rupert Murdoch took a newspaper we owned called The Sun and relaunched it as a tabloid. He stole our clothes. And that was the start of an identity crisis that we are only now beginning to shake off.”

Yes, that's right. Change, four decades in the making. Oh, the newsroom committees! "Now into its second decade of imagining the Mirror of the late 20th century, the long-range planning group..."

And one can just imagine the jubilation in, say, the Pleasant Passings Country Home in Upper Lower Algernon, Hamps., where, say, longtime Sun reader Archie Swinburn, 105, says: "In 1969 the Sun came out with a better product and I switched from the Mirror. But I knew eventually the Mirror would come through and win me back. I'm proud to say I'm a Mirror reader again. Good old Mirror."

Earlier, I missed this post by a guest contributor to Newsosaur, and you may have too. As Tim McGuire noted, while everything is a problem at the moment this is an advertising problem more than a readership problem. Print readership is declining, but decline can be managed; classified revenue simply jumped off the top of the building to its demise below, which is not a manageable problem. Yet newspaper ad departments often seem to be waiting by the phone for the ad manager of Kistler-Collister or Sanger-Harris or Sterling-Lindner to be calling to say they'll again buy 10 5x18s in the Sunday C section. (A tip of the Hatlo Hat to anyone who can name the three cities where those department stores operated without checking Wikipedia.)

There's really not much we in newsrooms can do about this, but publishers can. At least one new owner of a major newspaper quickly identified that the major problem facing him when he walked in the building, was the advertising department, and took action. At this point, though, even more radical action is needed -- probably creating new products, whether print or online, that will benefit the company as a whole even if they simply let the basic news product become a sort of brand-signifier for the whole operation even if it operates essentially in the red. (A local-local weekly associated with but not produced by the staff of Big Newspaper still has more credibility and clout in the market than a weekly produced by someone else.) Yes, that means Big Daily Newspaper becomes a loss leader in a company with a lot of other higher-profit publications and products. But Big Daily Newspaper provides the goodwill that makes the other products more effective.

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