Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Newspapers In Turmoil!

Or why most dailies, even the better ones, are clueless about what to do as they lose eyeballs to blogs and Jon Stewart. Though the StarTribune (which actually has bucked the trend by gaining eyeballs -- a phenomenon linked to its having a reputation for being a liberal and opinionated paper) may have hit on a solution:

The appeal of good, sometimes irreverent writing, beyond what traditional mainstream newspapering currently allows, is borne out in a study by Northwestern University’s Readership Institute. Lately the Institute has partnered with the Star Tribune, testing models for the newspaper’s long-awaited redesign. The makeover is supposed to incorporate significant advances in online service, among other things. Many Star Tribune employees will be curious to see if it addresses anything mentioned here. Northwestern spent a lot of time assessing the tastes of those elusive “younger readers,” the ones who don’t read newspapers much, don’t watch traditional network news programs, and only leaf through Time and Newsweek at the dentist’s office. What they found was interesting: A remix of news choices with hipper, more irreverent headlines and stories written with blog-like attitude—not Jen-Brad-Angelina-style celebrity junk, but actual news—was in fact more appealing to young readers than the stuff the Star Tribune actually published (they focused the study on the Star Tribune’s Valentine’s Day 2005 edition). The Star Tribune test material was very similar to Chicago’s competing Red Eye and Red Streak free tabloids. (The “Reds” are two free weeklies published the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune since 2002. They are aggressive efforts to lure young readers.) “What is interesting and revealing,” says Mike Smith, managing director of Northwestern’s Media Management Center, “is that the Sun-Times and Tribune have found that adults, loyal newspaper readers, are picking up the free weeklies in far greater numbers than first imagined.” In other words, a general loosening of the more staid conventions of professional journalism may very well offer more upside than risk to mainstream media.
Well, no duh. But will other papers follow the Strib's lead? Probably not:
But lacking a relaxation of profit demands so counter-effective to creativity, risk-taking, and invention, the death spiral for most newspapers will probably continue. Few will actually fold. A monopoly in a market will always guarantee steady positive cash flow, no matter what the quality of the product. But as their irrelevance to literature-loving readers and aggressive news ferrets deepens, most will become glorified community newspapers and “repeater towers” for the handful of major papers and wire services.
Meanwhile, the local TV stations shouldn't chuckle too loudly over the plight of their print brethren and cistern:
As for local TV news, the gold standard for cash-cow-dom and exemplar to so many others in the industry, they had better have a plan for the day the first shrewd video bloggers fire up their own local newscasts in the looming all-digital age. They must offer Daily Show fans a valid alternative to the silly, ossified, lucrative formula of happy faces, bloody pictures, weather, and sports that sent viewers to the Comedy Channel in the first place.
Which reminds me: Don't know of any local video TV bloggers, but we've already got the beginnings of a national internet TV blogger network.

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