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.

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2 Responses to “Death of the newspaper”

  1. Mysterious Dave Mather Says:

    This might sound pompous, but I’m that disappointed in the output of the ‘New Zealand herald’ that I will now do anything not to read it, including not going to the website. Be damned if they even get me as a tiny notch on their ‘unique monthly visitors’ stats. I will review this position if the newspaper gets sane again. If.

    Of course, not living in Auckland, I actually can read a rather pedestrian, journalistically humdrum, but not outright offensive, newspaper.

    The ‘New Yorker’ seems right. I don’t check a newspaper for opinions: I want facts and a semblance of journalist integrity. If I want to read or hear the opinions of others, there is the internet, talk-back radio, Current affairs programmes, and political press releases. Of that bunch, born-Internet journalism (not from a newspaper site), when it is good, gives both the writer’s opinion, and the links which back up that opinion should I want to check how they support their argument. And I actually intentionally limit my contact with advertising whenever I get a chance.

    What I want is someone who knows more about a topic than I do to analyse the information without making their opinion the centre of their piece. They can have an opinion, but give me some well researched facts. This is the journalism newspapers should do well, and there remains a market for it… but I’m not sure they are looking to meet that market. Unfortunately, most other MSM sources aren’t meeting the mark either.

    Rant over.

  2. Audent Says:

    Ah yes, the “analysis” versus “opinion” debate. Any chump can (and usually does) have an opinion on a subject. I want to hear from someone who has actually done some research, can present the facts and can analyse the situation… that’s what I want from my paper.

    Sadly, Steve Jobs says nobody reads any more so clearly we’re all dinosaurs.


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