Death of the newspaper
March 31, 2008
Interesting story in The New Yorker today… Yup, it’s official. Newspapers are dying and it’s all down to the interweb.
No truer word has been spoken on the subject.
I particularly like the line from Molly Ivins:
“The columnist Molly Ivins complained, shortly before her death, that the newspaper companies’ solution to their problem was to make ‘our product smaller and less helpful and less interesting’.”
Now that goes to the heart of the matter. Newspaper publishers seem intent on maximising the ads and minimising the journalism and unfortunately they seem to have forgotten what business they’re in. They seem to think they’re in the job of selling ad space to advertisers. They are not. Newspapers are all about selling eyeballs to advertisers. The eyeballs belong to the reader and they can be attracted by pretty pictures and interesting words but they are not generally attracted by a good looking advertisement – not enough to buy a newspaper at any rate.
If you get rid of the bait (the good news stories) you end up with the eyeballs going elsewhere (and not coincidentally taking their brains and wallets with them). That has happened dramatically over the past few years.
The New Zealand Herald likes to point out (in public at any rate) that it is still attracting readers or at least losing less than its competitors. Either way it’s misleading – the population of Auckland has risen dramatically in the past decade and during that time the readership has dropped.
I remember one issue of the Weekend Herald (the only paper I buy these days) that had the entire car section missing – a note on the front page said “Due to space constraints we are unable to publish the feature story this week. It will run next week” or words to that effect. Yes, that’s right, they left out the copy in favour of more ads.
The other interesting approach brought up by the New Yorker story is the “mullet” approach to content. Business up front, fun in the back. So, rather than just adopting the standard internet meme (let the reader write everything) it retains its professional journalism up front and allows comment and discussion further back.
That makes a lot of sense to me. A huge amount.