Allen Neuharth, who now chairs the Freedom Forum, says
papers should 'summon the courage' to raise their prices sp.
THE NEW YORK Times' national edition at $1 a copy is the only "realistically" priced newspaper sold today.
Others could raise their prices and improve their bottom line and content "any time they summon up the courage to do so."
So spoke Allen Neuharth, a price-hike proponent dating back to the time when he headed Gannett, and, more particularly, when he set the pace for USA Today.
Neuharth made this point while leading up to the central question at a conference called "Do Newspapers Have a Future?" sponsored by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley, Calif.
The speaker, now chairman of the Freedom Forum, predicted that some newspapers will survive well into the next century, but higher prices are only one of the factors that will determine the winners.
Standouts will be the papers that learn to segment their market, aiming special editions at particular consumers such as youths and sports fans and moving away from a general circulation audience, he said.
Although asserting that USA Today led the charge in this direction, Neuharth said its innovations were "just the tip of the iceberg."
Still, he jibed, most of the critics who labeled USA Today "McPaper, the fast food of journalism . . . have stolen many of our McNuggets."
Journalists sneered at USA Today because "newspaper people have gone too uptown," he contended. "If reporters once identified most closely with ordinary people, now more often than not reporters are elites, or at least they act like it."
But Neuharth conceded that newspaper men and women are not quite like "ordinary folk," in that they are generally better educated and more liberal than average Americans, live in apartments instead of houses, and "identify with big shots."
As such, reporters often miss the point of a story, Neuharth claimed. They blew President Clinton's proposed tuition tax credit, ridiculing it as "kiddie credit," although the cut "represented real money to average taxpayers with kids," according to Neuharth.
Newspaper survival also depends on running fast and smart in the technology since content battles being waged against newspapers by television, cable, online services, magazines, MTV News and even supermarket tabloids, which should not be ignored, Neuharth continued.
"Like it or not, they are newspapers, too, and . . . have been a source of information about the O.J trial for the august New York Times," he said.
Forward-looking papers, Neuharth said, are actively engaged in electronic services to personal computers and are even working closely with TV stations in trading news and information. This includes reporters going on air, a practice publishers and editors "foolishly forbade in the past," he added.
Such moves are to prevent newspapers from "being run over by a truck on the Information Superhighway," the USA Today founder said.
On his insistence that newspapers should be elevating newsstand prices during this period, Neuharth argued that readers are more receptive than publishers to the raise.
They realize, he went on, that newspapers are portable, can be clipped, saved and photocopied, contain redeemable food coupons and weigh in with a hefty cargo of news, information, entertainment, sports, advertising and editorial comment.
And, despite their flaws, newspapers play a big role in setting the agenda of public life, Neuharth maintained.
"Newspapers are useful, convenient, accessible and comfortable for the masses," he continued.
They can become even more so with the development of the "flat panel," the thin, portable tablet that could provide readers ? or viewers ? information on demand as they want it, he said.
Neuharth compared newspapers to Major League baseball in terms of their probable longevity. Referring to the aftermath of the recent baseball strike, he said: "Baseball is in jeopardy because owners and players believed it had a guarantee as the perennial national pastime, when it was only just a game for entertainment. Baseball has a future only if it provides fans with entertainment as good, as or better, than other games now available at competitive prices and comparable comforts." By the same token, he added, "newspapers began their slide when they persisted in thinking they were in the newspaper business, not the information business. Newspapers have a future if they provide information as good or better than that available through other means at competitive prices and comparable comforts."
However, Neuharth acknowledged that no one really knows what will be successful in the future.
But, one thing is certain, he said: "Consumers will ultimately make the choices, voting with their eyeballs, choosing one technology over another. The headline is that readers and viewers and listeners, more and more, will want their information when they want it, where they want it and how they want it. When it comes to news, information or entertainment, consumers are no longer just consumers. They are editors ? editing in or out what they want."
?( Newspapers began their slide when they persisted in thinking they were in the newspaper business, not the information business.) [Caption]
?(Allen Neuharth, chairman of the Freedom Forum and former head of Gannett Co.) [Photo & Caption]
By: M.L. Stein In a speech on the future of newspapers, former Gannett head