Business of News: Are Readers Losing Interest Because We’re Uninteresting?

“The economy, stupid,” was James Carville’s celebrated advice to simplify the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton in 1992. “Local news, editor” would be an appropriate mantra for newsrooms in 2020.

Our industry’s mind space is occupied by questions about delivery, bundling and technology. Those are crucial questions. But whatever those decisions are, it’s the content we deliver that determines whether local journalism thrives.

It’s very simple. People want to read news that’s interesting. News that relates to the important topics in their lives.

Journalist must regularly ask themselves, “Are we reporting the news that is most interesting to our readers, or are we following the formula we’ve followed for decades?”

When I talk to “real people” (those not involved in journalism classify as “real people”) these are some of the issues on their minds that I believe newsrooms scarcely report on:

Internet Security and Privacy: Particularly how it relates to children. Any reader with children or grandchildren old enough to operate a smartphone is vitally interested in keeping children safe while using the internet or apps. They are always concerned about predators, but beyond that, companies are collecting data about our children and marketing products to them in subtle and dangerous ways. This is a story easily localized by examining school district policies on technology usage and whether it is actually followed on campuses or sloughed off. Ask whether your local Boys and Girls Club is more vigilant about this than the school.

This is an opportunity to engage readers by holding online forums with local experts and then repurposing those forums into advice columns.

Generation Envy: The question that guarantees employment for economists and sociologists is this—Will this generation be worse off than the previous one? This is a local story that can be examined through these lenses.

Housing: In so many coastal states and in large cities, the cost of housing well exceeds the recommended 30 percent of income guideline. For many young people, the dream of home ownership is merely a fantasy. How do young people make it when the gap between salaries and rents is huge? In addition, the homeless problem often relates to the lack of affordable building decisions made by local agencies.

Employment: There is substantial debate over how many times a person will change jobs, but there is no question that employment is less secure in an age when companies place “investor returns” as their top priority. Yet, our local job markets seem to get coverage only when there is a substantial layoff or new employer moving to the area. Employment is more subtle. Wages and working conditions are readable stories for everyone considering a new job—and isn’t that most readers?

Finance: It’s wrong-headed for many news organizations to turn this coverage over to a 60-something syndicated personal finance columnist. This is where the “OK, Boomer” memes might have started. Advice about pensions and debate over Social Security mean little to young readers. Finance for them is about getting value for what they spend.

Consumerism: Do you know what most people are experts at? Giving advice and opinions. Ask one. They can tell you the best streaming service. The best or worst dentist. The best place for craft beer. Whether the latest iPhone is worth all that money. There are news stories in the best and worst in our communities (and please do not leave this up to cunning locals who will stuff the ballot box in the annual “Best Of” poll that isn’t nearly a poll. Do some real reporting.)

Local Myths and Facts: Every community has local legends repeated so often you would swear they are true. Why not cover these? In my community there is a rumor that a former mental hospital was the catalyst for The Eagles “Hotel California.” It’s not.  But the stories about what’s legend and what’s truth in your community will snare readers.

The worst sin of newspapering is boring your readers to death. The way to stay alive is to report stories that will have them talking.

Tim Gallagher is president of The 20/20 Network, a public relations and strategic communications firm. He is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and publisher at The Albuquerque Tribune and the Ventura County Star newspapers. Reach him at tim@the2020network.com.

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6 thoughts on “Business of News: Are Readers Losing Interest Because We’re Uninteresting?

  • February 27, 2020 at 4:53 am
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    Yup. My wife and I both live and both work in Boston, where the Globe offers great local coverage, and in NYC where the NY Times did not even cover the local primary that put AOC into office, promotes local plastic bag ban (good for some cities, a huge environmental minus in NY), and cannot bring itself to wonder why the city budget is triple Boston’s, per capita or why the state budget is double the national norm.

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  • February 27, 2020 at 6:40 am
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    When you stop reporting the actual news in favor of clicks, likes and website visits, news dies a slow death. It doesn’t matter what your feature articles are. It’s news that people want from a news organization and that need is growing more and more every day. Thanks to the internet, with it’s failed business models and destruction of solid business plans, news has shifted to entertainment and propaganda. Here’s some breaking news: The ENTIRE internet is about entertainment, news should not be. Reading about the new Burger King menu along side 100’s dying in a plane crash (or similar news) EVERY SINGLE DAY only serves to desensitize us and it degrades actual news. That is what is happening.

    Now add in the fact that because of the failed business models of the internet, especially due to scalability, news organizations have sought outside sources for money, which leads to the unimaginably high rise in one-sided journalism. It divides the country as there are scant facts/plethora of opinions. Opinions are not news. And when people read something they actually believe in, true or not, they will agree. Truth disappears. But those that know the actual truth call it B.S. I personally feel that there should not be news everywhere you look online and it should be held in high regard rather than letting it sink down to lower forms of journalism. Have you ever clicked on a “news” article only to find it’s 90% Tweets? That’s atrocious but apparently it’s more important to get clicks and cause division, than it is to simply tell the actual facts without the biased opinions. And what’s more, considering the future, is that since news is everywhere you look, the propaganda lands on the eyes of our youth. When they find out time and time again what they read isn’t really true, they lose interest and come to the conclusion that the news isn’t important or relevant, because it’s not truthful. The best move for the future is to have all news behind paywalls. People need a trusted source and online media is failing us. In short, the internet is more to blame than anything else when it comes to less people reading newspapers and seeking actual truth. People aren’t flocking to the internet because newspapers are boring, they are flocking to the internet due to 1) Bosses allowing them to at work, 2) The practice, already admitted by some tech companies, of getting people addicted to the internet and 3) Smartphones and 4) because it’s there. But currently money trumps all because the fact is without it, you go out of business.

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  • February 27, 2020 at 8:13 am
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    >Finance: It’s wrong-headed for many news organizations to turn this coverage over to a 60-something syndicated personal finance columnist. This is where the “OK, Boomer” memes might have started. Advice about pensions and debate over Social Security mean little to young readers. Finance for them is about getting value for what they spend.

    The patronizing attitude that young people don’t care about personal finance or social security is where the “OK, Boomer” memes started. You might as well have said “young people only care about where to find the best sales on skateboards and backward baseball hats.” Young people are increasingly concerned about the policy decisions that will shape their future and the world they inherit from their elders. See Greta Thunberg and climate change.

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  • February 27, 2020 at 8:45 am
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    stop reporting your opinions of news as news, start reporting news, that would be the first step …
    no need to fret about different technologies and whatnot: concentrate on the sad fact that you lost all (or, at least, most of) credibility you used to have … and let me assure you that getting it back is the toughest job of them all …
    you have been talking at your readers (viewers, listeners) instead of talking to them way too long … you’re getting what you’ve deserved for so long: your readers are NOT a bunch of illiterate redneck as many in this profession seem to think …

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    • March 2, 2020 at 7:23 am
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      Peter’s right: “Stop reporting your opinions of news as news.” STOP IT.

      Reply
  • February 27, 2020 at 9:32 am
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    Stop reporting self-biases, self-prejudices, personal political objectives, and candidate endorsements…..take the ego out of reporting.

    Reply

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