By: E&P Staff
Readers were quick to respond to Steve Outing’s column about life without the print edition of a newspaper.
Life Without the Print Edition
The article “Life Without the Print Edition” raises some interesting issues, some of which are not new, but others that are thought-provoking.
On my second tour of duty with the now defunct Cleveland Press in the late 1950s to mid-1960s, the paper suffered through a 129-day strike. During that time, major advertisers switched to a suburban chain called the Sun Newspapers. When the strike ended, many of them did not return to The Press because they realized suburbanites wanted ads of stores they patronized outside of inner city Cleveland. Having covered suburbs for The Press, I argued that the paper was too focused on an area suburbanites only came to was for their jobs. They did their shopping in the suburbs, which not only ringed the city but were burgeoning under the influx of people moving to them. I never won the argument.
Too many print papers today still do not realize this. They also do not realize that where once the papers could come out with special editions when breaking events warranted them, the electronic media are instantaneous. However, the explosion of various electronic media too often overwhelms viewers and listeners. Back half a century ago, when television was only in its infancy, I often would get calls in the city room complaining the callers saw or heard something on tv or radio but wanted a fuller explanation.
Yes, the younger generation most often depend on electronic media. Those of us who are part of the Rice Krispies Generation (when we get up in the morning, something goes snap, crackle, or pop) would prefer the paper product. But, it does not seem relevant anymore. Are print newspapers doomed? Maybe cut back, but there still is hope. It seems almost too obvious for print media moguls to understand what their products could do better than the electronic media. For one thing, they could cover the suburbs more in depth. When I worked for the Government as a public information officer at four different agencies, there might be just one reporter covering us. By us, I mean he/she usually never got into the many different departments within our agency where the real news never saw the light of day.
The writing certainly could be better because the talking heads of television are a bore. As the old saying goes, they seem to generate more heat than light. The March 30 edition of The New York Times had what I believe was a record number of corrections. I worked on two different copy desks where such mistakes never would have passed either the city desk to begin with, or our copy desk. When I read news copy, we were ordered to write the headline only out of the first three paragraphs. Try to find that rule observed today because the gist of news articles are buried in what we used to call “once upon a time” leads.
Lastly, I do read some papers online. But, when I go to the print version, I find a different product. If I still commuted to and from work, I think I would find it somewhat difficult to do The New York Times crossword puzzle on a laptop.
David H. Brown
Boynton Beach, Fla.
As a former newspaper editor, I was feeling Steve Outings? pain in letting go of that daily bundle of dead trees. Until recently I subscribed to two newspapers, the Hartford Courant and the NY Times, and I?ve had the same discussions with my wife about whether to keep home delivery. It?s a huge expenditure, and when I recently looked at the annual cost, I quickly realized I can buy a decent laptop for less than that. I dumped the daily delivery of the Times, and I?m about to stop the Courant. Maybe I?ll keep the Sunday papers coming, because there?s no greater pleasure than spending the day with that traditional, though increasingly antiquated information home delivery system. Even so, with an active family, I find I have less time even for that.
Where Mr. Outing has it right is local news. Unfortunately, that is what takes the greatest hit when the layoffs come. I get less and less local news despite paying ever-increasing subscription fees. The question is how does newspaper management pay for local news gathering.
To answer that question, I go back to an incident that occurred in the early ?80s when I was involved with an all-out effort to increase readership through zoning. At a Chamber of Commerce gathering a reader asked why we didn?t carry more local news. I was taken aback. We had expanded local operations and added reporters, filling untold column inches with local, local, local. What more local news could she possible want? What?s on sale at Joe?s Market.
You see, another casualty of newspaper downsizing is local ad sales staff. Far better to retain the more lucrative advertisers and devote resources there. And that means readers have fewer opportunities to find out what Joe?s has on sale. But imagine if you clicked on a story about your neighborhood and in Google style off to the side was a series of ads from businesses in that neighborhood. Click on Joe?s Market and there is what he has on sale. And like a Google ad, Joe?s pays only for clicks, which doesn?t require a whole lot of human effort, because it?s simply a link to Joe?s website. It takes local to a level you could not find anywhere else and just might be the only way newspapers survive. Otherwise, they become content aggregators, not originators, like just about any other website out there.
I just read Steve Outing’s April 1 Stop the Presses column, “Life Without the Print Edition.” I agree with Steve that strong local news coverage remains a strength of local newspapers in these challenging times. However, I find laughable his characterization of the “Boulder RSS feed” from Google and Topix, which simply aggregate news content created by newspaper reporters, as alternatives to the Boulder Camera’s local news. In most markets, the local newspaper is the only source of in-depth and watchdog journalism at the local level. If newspapers can’t find a way to draw revenue from the Web, they will no longer be able to pay their reporters and photographers, and the Web aggregators won’t have anything left to aggregate.
Also, it might be true that people will be willing to pay for the convenience of a customized report containing news about topics in which they are interested. That’s great if you happen to know those topics. Some of the time, you will need to know those topics before they ever become topics. But for the rest of us mortals, I find such a concept unsettling. Do we really want a society that only knows about things they think they care about? I didn’t know I was interested in veterans affairs before two very talented Washington Post reporters uncovered scandalous living conditions at Walter Reed Medical Hospital.
South Bend (Ind.) Tribune
Just one question for Mr. Outing: Where will you go for your news when the newspapers die for lack of revenue? Online revenues will never equal the print model and cannot support the editorial and business staffs necessary to do a good job of reporting and disseminating the information. We are rapidly moving to a world where the news comes from citizen sources and blogs (basically the same thing). But those citizen sources and blogs rely on the news outlets. Without them, there’s nothing to blog about.
Ken Anderberg, Publisher/Editor