Editorial: Ability, Determination, and Guts Define the Road Ahead

By: Jeff Fleming

Are you unsure of your role in life? Do you feel like you don’t know the real you? If you answered yes to these questions, there’s a good chance you’re a newspaper in need of Dr. Phil’s couch.  

It wouldn’t be difficult to convince newspapers that identity crises escalate during times of transition. As newspapers reinvent themselves to compete in the online universe, repackaging their content for social and multimedia formats, they further distance themselves from their foundation of producing enlightened, objective, and skillfully-crafted content. The Internet’s strength is its ability to break major news stories fast, but its weakness is covering those stories with the depth and quality reporting of a newspaper. In-depth reporting is hard to find online. The Internet confuses readers into thinking that urgent, breaking news is the most important news, when in fact the most important news is rarely the most time sensitive.  

Countless sites and blogs claim to provide news, but in reality, only scratch the surface of reporting’s infrastructure. Newspaper reporting is a full-time job, requiring networks, resources, and a professional staff. Bloggers provide a peek into events, while newspapers provide a panoramic perspective. Original, quality content is still king and newspapers still own a solid competitive advantage over the Internet, but this advantage is slipping as newspapers play to the level of their competition and adapt to what everyone else is doing, instead of vice versa.  

In an interesting twist, the country that gave us ABBA, IKEA, and meatballs, may also have implemented a blueprint on how to monetize original quality content. Svenska Dagbladet, a Swedish tabloid, recently reengineered its editorial department with innovations that have boosted readership and recently pushed the bottom line into the black for the first time in its 127-year history.  

The biggest change? They plan ahead.  

Forty percent of the news pages, including the front page, are produced in advance. Dagbladet’s journalists put their heads together and think of original, compelling, and agenda-setting stories that resonate with their readers. Managing editor Martin Jönsson stresses better planning, combined with better ideas. This combination seems to be working, as Dagbladet’s sales are up 12 percent since 2001, while the rest of Sweden’s newspaper market has withered by 17 percent.  

In 2005, with a bold and strategic marketing program, Dagbladet gave a few thousand random people subscriptions to the newspaper, along with its rival paper. In return for a month’s free subscription, recipients were asked to send a simple text message stating which paper they thought was better. The program was a success, giving Dagbladet a permanent sales increase.  

Newspapers that make the gutsy move away from day-to-day headlines — news that is being disseminated better and faster online — and focus on strong investigation and intelligent intrigue may be the ones that succeed in reintroducing themselves to subscribers willing to pay for breadth rather than immediacy.

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2 thoughts on “Editorial: Ability, Determination, and Guts Define the Road Ahead

  • June 29, 2011 at 11:48 am

    The Rocky Mountain News, in the last two years (or so) before its eventual demise, followed a similar tack, on both fronts. Under the leadership of John Temple, the News made a wholesale change in its content model by separating the breaking news – which would be the focus of the web portion of content – from in depth news, which would be the focus of the printed daily. Of course, the two often overlapped, in order to satisfy. But the direction was a hopeful stroke of brilliance. Sadly, it was the staid viewpoint of its corporate owners – Scripps Howard – that pulled the carpet from under what could have been at worst a great experiment, at best a huge, momentum-turning success. Before all newspapers go the way of the Rocky, or succumb to the questionable validity of being “the only voice in town,” the corporate ownership would greatly benefit by taking a page from that book, and embracing change on both fronts intelligently.

  • August 2, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Rocky Mountain news was chocked out of existence by a poorly structured Joint Operating Agreement with the Post


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