Rethink a newspaper? Heaven forbid

Peter Preston in the Observer (in London) tears into American papers for being boring and for not redesigning — and, more important, rethinking — themselves, as British papers did, successfully, when they change paper size.

The Guardian, Times and Indy have all engaged brain in the process.

That hasn’t been the obvious American way, though. Shave away and coin a quick buck. It may make sense to company accountants, but it is also, I think, one big reason why internet gloom can’t be wholly blamed for continued decline. Some smaller papers are making too little effort on net coverage (as that Harvard report reveals). Most of the bigger papers, though, have gone digital with a bang. But is anybody thinking about the newsprint version that remains – and still brings in the vast bulk of the profit today?

Apparently not. The dispiriting thing to a travelling, sampling reader in the US (like me) this summer is how stultified the American press has become. Of course there are fine traditions and many fine journalists on display, but the Daily Average Advertiser is a bit pompous and elderly, because its readers are ageing: ready only for the kind of reform nobody is supposed to notice; still turning to page 97; still huddled in monopoly anxiety and corporate inertia.

Why are potentially splendid papers – such as the San Francisco Chronicle – in wonderful towns like San Francisco, so awful? Because nobody seems to try to think or innovate any longer? Because ideas come as thin as the new page size.

  • http://www.thefutureofnews.com Steve Boriss
  • http://editor.blogspot.com Howard

    Forgive my self-interest in this, but here are two splendid examples of newspapers that thought boldly about design, story forms, content etc. when they changed paper size: The Kansas City Star and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. You can find links to today’s front page of each from the corporate homepage at http://www.mcclatchy.com.

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    P.S. IN KC, daily circulation is even with last year and online uniques up +30% …

  • Don

    Excellent analysis as always Steve. Allow me to also note the role of British newspaper slap and tickle shtick as articulated by Michael Yon.

    The British press often plays slap and tickle: they issue sharp-tongued remarks about American troops (slap), while moments later shamelessly gratifying hometown readers with reports about the superiority of British troops (tickle).