Editorial: Making Adjustments on the Fly
Posted: 5/20/2014  |  By: Ed Zintel
The E&P staff spent a lot of time and a lot of air miles traveling to various newspaper-related conferences over the last two months (coverage of the mediaXchange and AmericaEast conferences in this issue proves that).

We learned a lot, too.            

Mainly, we learned that the newspaper industry isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon, contrary to recent reports of its going to you-know-where in a hand basket.            

Where it is going is in a different direction. Call it the land of digital, if you must, but the producers of newspapers, in print, are not in any way giving up the ship just yet. As sailors would tell you, you come face-to-face with a storm and you adjust your sails and your tack and ride it out to calmer seas.            

Top newspaper executives at mediaXchange, held March 16-19 in Denver, generally concurred that readers will decide the future of printed news products, while acknowledging that mobile news, social media and digital subscriptions will continue to take over the news landscape.            

“We’re not going to tell them [readers] when to stop using [print] newspapers,” said USA Today publisher Larry Kramer at mediaXchange, reiterating the same message at AmericaEast, March 30-April 2 in Hershey, Pa. “They’re going to tell us, and they have all the time in the world.”            

At least we in the newspaper industry hope so.            

Some are more optimistic than others about the newspaper’s fate. Bob Dickey, president of the Gannett U.S. Community Publishing Division and newly-elected chairman of the Newspaper Association of America, said at mediaXchange that newspapers will continue to arrive on doorsteps for the foreseeable future.            

“I’m not here to predict the seven-day frequency, but there will be newspapers for at least another 10 or 20 years,” he said.            

Not to rain on Dickey’s happy parade, but Kramer, during the same panel discussion, told the audience that the tangible aspect of newspapers, which he said is one of the main reasons people subscribe, could easily be digitally replicated by flexible computer screens. “There are so many new and different ways to disseminate content,” Kramer said, to no one’s surprise. “We tend to forget that young people never read papers.”            

I can attest to that. I have two bright college-aged children and I dare say neither of them has ever voluntarily read a newspaper.            

Obviously, attracting young readers is the key to our newspapers’ future. Just look around and you see young folks taking advantage of free products—usually on their smartphones.            

But, as Michael Klingensmith, publisher of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis said at mediaXchange, they’re willing to pay for things, too. The key, he said, is making news content interesting enough that they’re willing to subscribe to it.            

And there’s the rub. How do you make a news story as interesting to digest as an online game? And can that only been done through social media?            

There is hope. Local community newspapers seem to be fairing much better than metros. They’re doing that by connecting with their audience in a personal way in which the bigger dailies cannot. But the locals have also been smarter than the big boys by taking advantage of their place in their communities. Don’t think those seemingly corny weekend events—the bridal shows, the garage sales and such—nor those down-home blogs talking about the upcoming neighborhood rivalry basketball game don’t connect with readers and keep them subscribing to the local newspaper. They do.            

So, you see, figuring out how to secure the plight of the print newspaper isn’t such a mystery. It’s a matter of knowing what your newspaper readership wants. And making adjustments accordingly.