New News: Deconstructing the newspaper

[Here’s another in a very occasional series of posts suggesting how to change newspapers, all tagged and headlined “NewNews.” Prior posts addressed the need to inspire an imperative for change and suggested turning the newsroom into a classroom to recast journalists’ relationships with the public. In this post, I’ll look at what newspapers do not need to be; in a future post, we will look at what they do need to be.]

Newspapers waste too much money on ego, habit, and commodity news the public already knows. In an era of shrinking circulation, classified, and retail ad revenue — and in the face of shrinking audience and increasing competition — papers have to find new efficiencies and cut these expenses to concentrate instead on their real value (which, I’ll argue, is local reporting).

Newspapers also have to have the guts to stop trying to produce one-size-fits-all products that serve every possible reader and interest in one edition. When they were monoplies, newspapers tried to have something for everyone so they would attract the largest possible audience and assure their status as the marketplaces in their markets. But today, that can be terribly inefficient: What is the real cost of maintaining stock tables for the few readers who still use them in print? More on that below.

And newspapers have to take an even more frightening step: They need to start driving readers from print to online. Yes, that means driving readers from a higher-margin product, print, to a lower-margin product, online — but those margins are artificially maintained because advertisers still value print more than readers do (why else is the print audience shrinking while online is growing?). When reality catches up to advertisers, and when buying ads online in a distributed world is made easier — and that will happen — will newspapers be ready? When that day does come, newspapers will even have to consider selling print as a value-added upgrade to online, the reverse of what is done today.

The point of this exercise is to peel away the layers of the onion that a newspaper no longer needs so it can get to the core of what it really is, what it does best, what it must be to survive and prosper. You can pose the question one of two ways: What do we kill to save money, or what do we kill so we can shift resources to more important things? Whichever, you can’t stay the same and certainly can’t develop new features until you cut the fat and flesh. Mind you, I am not saying that all this needs to be killed. But I am saying that this is a necessary exercise to get to the essence of what a newspaper has to be. So I’ll start the bidding; please add your nominations (and disagreements):


* Stock tables have to go. The Star-Ledger in New Jersey (with whom I used to work) killed most of its stock listings more than four years ago and didn’t suffer at all. In fact, they saved $1 million a year in paper and ink even with added improvements in the business section. It’s shocking — but a telling commentary on the snail-led newspaper business — that only now is another paper, the Chicago Tribune, planning to follow suit, sending people to a toll-free phone service and online for commodity stock prices.

Consider the economics: What is the net profit per subscriber? How many of those subscribers need to cancel their subscriptions before you lose more money than you would if you killed the stock tables? The truth is that you’ll likely lose only a handful of subscribers. But even if you lost hundreds, I have no doubt that the consequent loss of circulation revenue and audience to support your ad rates would be far less than the savings you’ll recognize from killing the tables. That is the essential business calculation of this exercise. Keep those economics in mind when we get to other features. It means that while everyone in the business is trying desperately to maintain circulation, the smart thing to do may be to decrease your unprofitable circulation if it means getting rid of major costs. Heed the cash cow in the coal mine.

* National business news is covered well in other publications, online, and on cable. Can a local paper really compete? I don’t think so, or at least I’ve never seen one do it very well. Do you get rid of it? Probably not. But you can reduce coverage to digests and major news — and if enough papers need such packaging, you can be sure the Associated Press will provide it.

* Local business news is, clearly, part of the franchise. But many markets now have local business weeklies (see American City, with whom I also used to work). I’d examine the coverage of a daily newspaper section vs. the weekly business paper and consider new relationships: Maybe the weekly can provide daily coverage more efficiently and at a low cost if it drives branding and subscriptions for the weekly. If the daily paper doesn’t want to concede the turf, maybe it should create a product to compete head-to-head with the weekly. Much of this depends on how much news is really generated and covered locally — that yields one analysis in L.A. and another in Peoria — and how much ad revenue is attributable to business in print.

Local business news also includes the bread-and-butter lists of promotions and such. I would drive that online, where you can be comprehensive at no cost, where you can publish every damned press release and promotion there is, which you could never do in print. Online does attract business advertising.

* Personal finance is more of a national story than a local one. If you believe you need to provide advice about taxes and mutual funds, you can get it from the wires and syndicates and you can meter how much you buy based on how much ad revenue you generate. If you’re worried about providing the service to readers and don’t get ad revenue, then don’t waste the space and instead just give them links.

Local newspaper business sections are generally unimpressive and so you need to calculate whether — given the current competitive and ad landscape — it is worth investing more to improve them or whether you can provide sufficient service at lower cost.


* Critics are luxuries. This is heresy for me, a former critic and creator of a magazine of criticism. But newspapers don’t all need their own movie, TV, and music critics. The movies are no different in Terre Haute than in New York. Lots of local critics are second-rate. And the truth is that the opinions of the audience matter at least as much as theirs. You can syndicate other critics or you can enable your audience to be the critic. If you’re going to continue to employ critics, concentrate on the uniquely local, like local bands, to help serve a different audience. Oh, and if you’re keeping a TV critic to report on new general managers at local TV stations nobody knew anyway, you’re wasting that money.

* TV listings are a goner. They take up lots of newsprint and don’t work well as more channels are squeezed into a tighter space. Lots of people get their information from their TiVos, cable boxes, and online. And TV is going to continue to explode such that time-based guides will become more and more irrelevant. Now every circulation director I know will faint at the notion of getting rid of TV books and pages but I’ll just bet that some paper will try it and find itself no worse off. I’d recommend providing some highlights and call it a day.

* Movie listings are tougher, for they can be comprehensive and they are convenient. Some papers are switching to paid listings only and that makes sense.

* Entertainment listings work best online if they are comprehensive and searchable — and if they are provided by the venues and not at the expense of newsroom resources. I’d look at this as an opportunity to be more of a gathering place for information and less of a printed feed of repetitive listings: Provide a data base that venues can use to enter data. I’d list highlights in the paper to promote fuller listings online.


* Most sports columnists are, according to sports-fan-friends of mine (I’m quick to caution that I’m not one), a waste of ink. Are you better off paying their salaries or syndicating the best?

* National sports coverage is a luxury … for the guy doing the coverage. Do you really need to send your own guy to that golf tournament?

* Sports agate will be the next to go online, after stock tables and TV listings. Sure, keep listing the details for local teams. But send users online for the national stats. Better yet, provide more comprehensive stats for local school teams online than you ever could in print. Change readers habits to expect the fine print online.

Sports presents interesting challenges. Less than half of the audience reads sports and the endemic ad revenue has never been great (tire ads and … tire ads). Yet those those who read sports are ferociously loyal to the subject. So should papers consider creating separate sports products either online or in print? Would there be sufficient audience and revenue? Should papers concentrate more heavily on local sports, down to the very local level? More on that another day.


* Comics are a killer. Every time a paper changes so much as a hair on Beetle Bailey’s head, the editor’s office is overrun with angry mobs. Yet comics take up a lot of paper with no advertising; they strictly support circulation. Hmmmm. What do you think?

* Syndicated features like bridge and advice columns, similarly, get no ad revenue and have nothing to do with the local mission of a paper. As older readers die off, taking these habits with them, I’d try to kill these features off.

* Food, home, fashion, and travel coverage get low readership but high ad dollars. I’d concentrate on buying the best features from elsewhere rather than spending a lot on dedicated staff and supplement that with local freelance columns and features.


Now we start striking the bone. News is news. But I’ll be that half the papers that maintain third-rate bureaus in Washington would do better running news from syndicates — AP, Reuters, Washington Post, NY Times, Knight-Tribune — and covering local pols with local news staffs.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It is absolutely pointless to be the paper that sends the 15,001st journalist to the political conventions, where nothing happens and what does happen can be seen on C-SPAN and the internet. Sending your own people to the conventions and other gang-up stories is fueled by one motivation: ego. Reporters want to be on what they think is the big — read: blanketed — story. And editors want to brag that they sent them. But readers don’t give a damn. See my post below on the value and cost of scoops and exclus. Following the mob to the story that’s already over-covered does not serve journalism. It serves the ego or reporters and their institutions. And it wastes money and space and opportunities to cover more important local stories that really matter to readers’ lives.


Welcome to the marrow. Local news is what should matter most to a newspaper (with only a few exceptions). And newspapers need to find new ways to gather more local news. I’ll cover that in a subsequent post. But it’s apparent that if you reduce what you’re spending — read: wasting — on some of the areas above, then you can afford to spend more on the news that matters in your market, the news only you can provide, the one kind of news that makes you indispensible in any medium.

But not all local news is worth the effort. I have long argued, without much company, that one of the greatest wastes of newspapering is editing for prize committees. Writing overlong, show-off series that are aimed at winning Pulitzers and lesser awards is often done for institutional ego over actual service. Tracking meth across the globe sounds cool on a prize application but I’ll bet you that most readers don’t give a damn. If, instead, you took those resources to get rid of a crooked mayor or reform property taxes, you’d be performing a far greater journalistic service. It may not get you awards, but it will get you readers.

And I’d look hard at your local columnists and ask whether they are as informative and entertaining as local bloggers. They used to provide some humanity and voice in otherwise gray, dull papers. Maybe your readers can help do that now. More on that in a later post.

The challenge in local news will be to get more and more local. But that, too, I will cover in a subsequent post.

At the end of this, I believe, the essence of a newspaper is local news with some other services and distractions. It is important for newspapers to boil themselves down to their essence and figure out how to do better at providing that unique and valuable service. That’s when you can start reconstructing what a newspaper — on paper or not — can be and should be today.

: LATER: Jenny D in the comments reminds me that I forgot

* Editorials and editorial columnists. Does a paper really need an editorial board and columnists just to produce opinions when, as the blogosphere amply demonstrates every day, there is no shortage of opinions out there. If you want a true op-ed, perhaps the goal should be to better capture the opinions of the public.

: In the comments, Nellie laments each one of the proposals above and asks the crucial question:

Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of angry and sometimes heartbroken phone calls come to the receptionist every time one of these dubious “improvements” is implemented.

Each represents a reader who blames the local paper for wrenching away a part of their lives they’ve come to depend on.

Paring away the parts of the product that people care about leaves what?

And there’s the real question, isn’t it: What is the role of a newspaper in a community and in readers’ lives. If it is still expected to be all things to all people in a nichey world, I’m afraid the business will not work. That’s why newspapers need to figure out their essence.

: LATER: Editor & Publisher covers this post.

  • “And newspapers have to take an even more frightening step: They need to start driving readers from print to online. Yes, that means driving readers from a higher-margin product, print, to a lower-margin product, online —”

    You forget to mention the other important aspect of online publishing:the cost can be zero compared to the paper ones.
    And this small detail has a dramatic effect on journalism, or at least could.
    There are plenty of people in journalism who have neither got what they like nor quite grown to like what they get.
    They write pieces they do not much enjoy writing, for papers they totally despise.
    And the sad process ends by ruining their style and disintegrating their personality, two developments which in a writer couldn’t be separated, since his personality and style must progress together.

    What could be more welcome than a space in a newspaper where they can be “impartial” or “servant of the public” ir just be able to write what they want?
    What could be more promising than being able to build a space where to write and be one’s own?


  • Wow, Jeff, this is better than going to J School … thanks for this. I just hope all the journos and editors who need to read it will get their hands on it.

  • Tim


    As always, you’ve provided some provocative thoughts to start the conversation.

    One notion I’d argue, though, is that much of sports – especially if there are local, college or HS teams in the hunt – is local. Investment in sports coverage and, yeah, sports columnists and bloggers is essential if we want to connect with the needs and interests of our local readers.

  • Jeff, you said nothing about editorials, op-eds, and the week in review type sections in Sunday papers. What about those?

    May I add that local sports–HS sports and local college sports–are HUGE in our local paper, and probably account for a lot of circulation. Big color photos of HS kids playing field hockey is a big deal. So are things like school lunch menus, local events and entertainment, etc.

  • Nellie

    Kill your comics, lose all connection kids have to your paper.

    Kill your tv listings, ruin the lives of loyal elderly readers with no tivo for whom the cable listings scroll requires sharp eyes and memory — just what they’ve lost.

    Advice, bridge, crossword puzzles and Sudoko are the daily bread of casual readers, ways they measure out their days.

    Local movie reviewers are a benchmark for local tastes; many readers say they know if the local guy hates a movie, they’ll love it. If a series of strangers of reviewing movies, how does a reader know where they’re coming from?

    Local sports columnists become part of the conversation — “Did you read what X said today?” “Yeah, I saw him in the Piggly Wiggly last week and told him he was wrong about the Raiders. He used my line today”

    Food stories get huge readership — incoming recipes feed a population always looking for something new to serve the family for dinner.

    So many of these suggestions are already being implemented by newspaper executives like you in the interest of serving the stockholders, not the readers.

    Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of angry and sometimes heartbroken phone calls come to the receptionist every time one of these dubious “improvements” is implemented.

    Each represents a reader who blames the local paper for wrenching away a part of their lives they’ve come to depend on.

    Paring away the parts of the product that people care about leaves what?

  • Most sports columnists are, according to sports-fan-friends of mine (I’m quick to caution that I’m not one), a waste of ink. Are you better off paying their salaries or syndicating the best?

    Just because New Jersey’s teams all suck doesn’t mean there aren’t franchises worth reporting about on the local level…


  • Moreover, we already a have a newspaper out there that fits all of your recommendations to a T: it’s called the Metro, and it’s a syndicated cut-and-paste abomination before God and man.

  • One point that is worth mentioning is the fact that newspapers seem to be increasingly consumed for reasons other than getting news. I would expect to see circulation decline being higher for weekday newspapers, but the numbers suggest the opposite. (FAS-FAX stats here:

    It’s the Sunday newspapers that experience highest circulation decline.

    What we also see is newspapers being sort of an OPML of local population’s interests; the content does not need to be time-sensitive but it needs to be relevant. I think that editorials and “brand journalists” are more important than ever.

  • Cody

    AFter you get rid of all this…what’s left?

    I’m looking forward to gettting The Daily Jarvis (a blank white sheet of rolled up newsprint) thrown in my yard.

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  • Princeton has an excellent local paper, the Town Topics. The Topics has no editorial page, mercifully. It does have reviewers, including film critic Kam Williams.

    As for the Star Ledger, I sorely miss Roger Harris’s book reviews. After Roger retired, the books section is only a shadow of its former self. I hope Roger sends a review or two from Texas now that he moved.

  • afsvfan

    you created entertainment weekly ? whats the story on that…..
    did you make billions selling that ?

  • Mike G

    Three disconnected responses:

    You suggest a lot of stuff should be national pickup stuff, not locally generated. Jeez, it is already and if that’s all available online, why do I need the Booneville Hick-Redneck to read George Will or Roger Ebert? Localness and developing individual voices are the only hopes, it seems to me, not least because of the farm team role in developing talent. You’re looking at one real world aspect of it (much local writing is terrible) and deriving a universal principle from it (therefore no one should even try).

    I am always come back to how much more interesting and individual a writer and personality James Lileks is on his blog than in the Star-Tribune. How much more relevant he is to MY life when he’s just writing for himself, rather than for every imaginable reader all at once. (It’s eerie sometimes– we’ll turn out to have watched the same DVD or had the same experience with our kids on the same day.) There are a lot of writers out there being forced to write to an industry mold, I suspect. Don’t terminate them, liberate them! Instead of making one writer write for everybody, give everybody a different writer to read!

    Each represents a reader who blames the local paper for wrenching away a part of their lives they’ve come to depend on.

    I remember how someone in the symphony orchestra business phrased this. He suggested a program of new music– Philip Glass, say. (Or maybe new music just meant 20th century.) The board said “Our audience doesn’t like that kind of music.” To which the guy replied, “By audience, do you mean the one third that stayed, or the two thirds that stopped coming?”

    You have to get past the fact that you’re messing with the product some vocal people will love, or else you’re doomed to never change. Which they are, at the moment…

    Oh, and if you’re keeping a TV critic to report on new general managers at local TV stations nobody knew anyway, you’re wasting that money.

    A lot of that stuff exists to kiss up to local advertisers, though. It has nothing to do with readers per se.

  • Kill the comics, lose me as a reader, it’s a part I always read. I read NY Times online, because no comics, I never read the Wall Street Journal because it has no comics.

    Yeah local news may be the marrow, but without that seasoning of humor I promise I won’t pickup your paper.

  • I agree with some of what Jeff says here.

    After all, running stock tables in 4 point type to save newsprint is the typical sort of decision you see out of most publishers. To save newsprint, they make the type so small nobody can read it, yet it still takes up 4 pages in the Boston Globe, and no advertiser goes near it, because, of course, nobody uses it. Type’s too small to read.

    However, Jeff has a lot to learn about WHY NEWSPAPERS EXIST. They exist, Jeff, because they produce on average a 30% return on equity for their owners. And that is the ONLY reason they still exist.

    National news and sports is in the paper in the first place because it is much cheaper to surround all those tire ads with copy you already purchased from AP than it is to hire a local writer to cover the little leagues. So, publishers fill the majority of the paper with “free” copy. Same for national business and features. It’s CHEAP. That’s why its IN THERE in the first place. It’s FILLER.

    Nobody buys ads on the comics page??? Give me a break? Just try to get PERMISSION to advertise on the comics page. You CAN’T buy an ad there (most papers). They won’t SELL YOU ONE.

    You can’t buy an ad on the front page either, where all the EYEBALLS ARE. You can’t buy an ad on the op-ed page. But you can buy one on the national business page that nobody reads. Why? Ego … thats why. Nothing more.

    If you took all of what Jeff suggests that should be taken out of the newspaper, you’d be left with one page of comics (no ads), one page of local news (after all, most newspapers only have 4 reporters) one page of Op-Ed and 26 pages of advertisements.

    Unless, of course, you hired a bunch of reporters to cover local news. Sounds great! People would, you know, actually buy the paper. Unfortunately, such a paper would make, MAYBE, 5% on equity.

    May as well invest in toilet paper.

    It is this greed that should have killed newspapers a long time ago. Except for one thing: Newspapers used to have something going for it that nobody else had. It was where you could go to get the facts. If it was in the paper, you could trust that it was true. Remember Watergate?

    Now we get Jason Blair-gate and Rathergate-ish fake but accurate. Newsrooms squandered their relevancy on partisan political points; and publishers let them do it, some for their own partisan political points.

    I’m glad they’re dying. Greed and bias just doesn’t sell like it used to.

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  • These are all interesting ideas, Jeff, and I know from experience within the industry that many of these ideas have been specifically discussed at high levels. I think most newspapers are simply afraid to pull the trigger on most of them.

    Their fears — frankly — are well-founded. What happens next? How do you maintain the revenue stream? What about the tremendous investments in printing presses and other infrastructure — and the debt associated with those investments? Online revenues are going to increase fast enough to keep the industry afloat?

    Very, very careful treading is necessary here — but speed is also of the essence. Makes for a lot of risk for those who actually run these companies.

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  • A lot of what you say is true. At the newspaper I work at, their obsession with young readers and aping TV has gotten out of hand. People who read newspapers do it because they like to read, not glance at fancy graphics. The pursuit of young readers has always seemed like a fool’s errand to me — even before the Internet. Those inclined to be interested in the news will read, those who don’t, won’t — especially now that they have it all at their fingerprints. The people who need to be pursued are the ones who have driveways so they can actually get the newspaper.

    Speaking from my publication, the ever-shrinking newshole has gotten ridiculous. We use a lot of space on local news, much of which is nothing more than glorified rewrites of press releases. Newspapers should stop trying to fight TV and offer what they can’t — detailed stories about important events. Some days, we’re down to one or two wire stories from national and international areas and a column of briefs, which inevitably waste one of the important slots on something like the news of Angelina Jolie’s pregnancy. I think the days when the theory was that newspapers should be written at a 6th-grader’s level is over — they need to get smarter and more detailed, not the other way around.

  • Mike G asks: “You suggest a lot of stuff should be national pickup stuff, not locally generated. … if that’s all available online, why do I need the Booneville Hick-Redneck to read George Will or Roger Ebert?”

    You don’t need them for that. No more than you “need” Google, Yahoo! or any other “online service” to read the same content. But needs aren’t all that drive this sort of market. Convenience is an extraordinarily powerful driver. The idea is that if the local “newspaper” site is the primary and best provider of local and hyper-local news *as well as* the portal to or aggregator of non-local information, then you’ll find it more convenient to go to the local paper for all your information needs. The local “newspaper” would draw you in with the local and specialized news that you need and package the non-local news.

    There is no reason why local papers couldn’t present to you a “news and information experience” as comprehensive as that presented by a Google or Yahoo!. You might suggest that local papers don’t have the resources to do this — but they do since many of them are owned by organizations that have the financial resources to build systems functionally equivelant to even the biggest “pure play” online systems. For those that don’t have the resources, there is always the possiblity of industry group cooperation on developing common systems and technology to make this stuff happen. (i.e. what “New Century Network” should have done. — Only the newspaper people will understand that comment… Or, what AP does for data distribution.)

    Local news is massively more “actionable” than non-local news. As such it is a fantastically powerful hook that can draw people into a “catch and feed” system that leads readers to shared non-local resources and away from the general services like Google, Yahoo!, MSN, etc.

    bob wyman

  • I saw (as stated above) the stock tables were thrown out of my Chicago Tribune starting this morning, they came out with a special section explaining how to get the quotes/information online or via telephone from now on. Looks like all that’s remaining in the print version are the top 20 gainers/losers on the NYSE and NASDAQ, a list of local companies performance and that of the most widely held stocks overall, and that of the top 20 mutual funds.

    Hopefully this move by the Tribune ‘breaks the dam’ for stock markets being excised from other newspapers as well.

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  • Marcus

    The person who posted that article is an idot. The newspapers of American is a cultural icon, bread and butter. Stop writing things that only make people stupid.

  • Do you check the email linked to your site?

  • Jim Harris

    SO WHAT? Where is the publisher, the editor, the staff who get out of bed daily to ask ONLY that question of themselves and their organs, and to answer it for their constituencies in whatever form the constituencies choose.
    Take one glamorously redesigned daily: Still full of overwritten, rip-and-read wire service “news”; an out-of-touch page of national opinion that reflects a publisher’s far-right views; “lifestyle” content that is neither lively nor stylish; “funnies” that are not; the agate; and transcription of local government meetings. Oh, and a Web site of just 25 links to stories the editors think we want to read. I didn’t read it today — SO WHAT? — and I won’t read it tomorrow — SO WHAT?
    Take a tip from your teeny hometown dailies, editors and publishers — it’s LOCAL LOCAL LOCAL, right down to hiring your staffs not from Columbia or Chapel Hill (to feed your egos and suffer theirs) but from your neighborhoods. Oh, the copy they turn in!, you moan. Oh, the eyes it will attract, I retort.

  • Normally, I am one of Jeff’s biggest fans, but now that my ox has been gored, I have to disagree. The point that editorial changes have to change is obvious – next to the stock listings, they’ve been the most static part of the paper for my entire lifetime. Newspapers need to have opinion sections, but they need to be radically reimagined.

    Jeff’s idea that they “should capture the opinions of the public” is just the most paltry and basic step. Today’s opinion sections were built and the content ideas – cartoons, editorials, columns were built when newspapers were THE opinion forum. Now there’s shout TV, talk radio, more political mags than ever and the blogosphere.

    So here’s some ideas:

    Newspaper opinion sections should stop thinking of themselves as 2 pages at the back of the A section. They should think of themselves as a free-standing local opinion magazine that happens to be part of the paper. Start building some original stuff for the web and then decide how it can be repurposed for the paper instead of the other way around.

    Become part of the conversation: Recognize that local talk radio hosts and bloggers exist. Use what they’re already doing to create content and invite the most interesting and credible voices into your pages. Reprint and then react to what these other voices are saying.

    Interact with your readers. Letters to the editor are among the most popular of newspaper features – build on that. When a letter rips on the papers editorials, why not have the writer send a polite note back defending his point of view. Give the letter writer time to respond via email and then publish the exchange. How much more interesting could letters be if editors came down off their high horses?

    If your web traffic is big enough, produce some controversial content and publish it on the web first. Then when you’ve got reader reaction, publish the original piece and the readers’ views at the same time in the dead tree version.

    Learn from your readers. Already in Seattle and Dallas, editorial page editors are previewing their editorials on an editorial page blog. Readers who know what they’re talking about have a chance to respond – with facts and analysis – and impact the editorial that ends up in the dead-tree paper.

    Look, newspapers are going to have to turn into web creatures. And the Internet is a phenomenal tool for opinion journalism. The day of the static “editorials, letters, columns, cartoons” opinion section is over, but for goodness sake this is an opportunity not a crisis.

  • I love all the “good ideas” here that amount to nothing more than cloaked common sense.

    If papers were doing the basic risk/reward analysis on removing stuff like stock tables and sending sportswriters to every expensive event, they never would have gotten to this point.

    Even if they decamp and become more internet-centric, they will still be entering a competitive landscape in which I don’t think they can compete.

    Did someone mention the obituaries? My parents seem to “look forward” to them everyday.

  • The problem is that the things you are talking about doing have already been done to local radio and look at the results.

    If the idea is for newspapers to replace content with syndicated alternatives we will be looking at problems down the road.

    I think the future is in becoming ‘hyper-local’. Newspapers should be divided by neighborhoods with maybe a national section in the front.

  • I am still waiting for one self-identified leftist to acknowledge that a huge part of the newspaper demise is from extreme and offensive ideological bias.

    Anyone who thinks wasted ink on stockquotes is the cause remains delusional.

    I had a lengthy email exchange with a prominent Boston Globe writer whose only explanation for the 8% circulation decline last year was basically:

    “…young people today are dumb, have no attention span, and don’t read…”

    Ironically his ignorant “explanation” was pretty explanatory of the Globe’s 8% decline and its continued woes.

    That was by no means the first time I heard that particular ‘talking point’ explanation.

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  • Gerald A Davis

    I am sure you have given many good suggestions. The main reason I stopped reading the newspaper was their spin.
    I will never forget how night after night the MSM harrassed Richard Nixon when he decided to go after North Vietnam. “Oh my God now he is bombing N Vietnam.” Night after night they kept it up. Then they reported a loss in the Tet offensive, absolutely inexcuseable.
    And it hasn’t stopped. They now feel that they were right to encourage the withdrawl from Vietnam. In spite of the loss of 58,000 men, and the death of millions of other people when we left. Even the considerable loss of political power the left has sustained seems not to be considered.
    Now this carries through in the Iraq struggle. The left has maintained that Bush lied. In spite of the fact that most of their leaders are on the record to the contrary. The only way one hears those recordings is by listening to talk radio or other conservative outlets. If the Republicans had tried this in reverse, imagine how the MSM would have shot it down.
    You have many good suggesstions for improved profitability but the main problem is the lack of balance in reporting the news. They have alienated too many of us. The problems at the New York Time and CBS only exemplify this.
    I prefer to get my news from, where I can easily see both sides of the arguement.

  • TLB

    I suggest product placements in the comics. Peanuts could pimp Purina, etc. etc.

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  • Cody, I agree with you, LOL, what’s left?

    I like the filler sections of the paper because the act of reading the paper, meandering from one section to the other, was a pleasure and a ritual. If you notice, it’s getting harder and harder to get, say, movie times on the web all in one place and for free, so the paper may soon become easier than checking the web for this type of info.

    What caused me to forsake the paper and cancel was their ham-fisted partisan rhetoric. Get rid of that, and they’ve got me back.

  • Mike Phillips

    I’ve just retired from one of the larger media companies, but I spent the last couple of years trying to get 21 newspapers to do much of what you’re proposing.

    To those who disagree with you, here’s some data to chew on: Only 30-35% of the newshole in American newspapers (all sizes) is local. Some 50-70% is commodity news — usually wire but not always, and always information that is readily available elsewhere for free. From proprietary research that I know well: The subjects that are most important to most Americans are health, kids/schools, family issues, community/local and religion/spirituality. Except for general community/local, less than 2% of newshole is the typical allotment for each of those subjects. And oh, by the way, the high-interest audience for sports is only about 25%.

    Conclusion: The fundamental challenge for newspapers is not print-to-web migration (although that’s an important operational strategy). It’s filling print and digital news products with relevant content. And that simply isn’t happening.

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  • sam glasser

    Jeff: Every editor should read your comments on local news. The fixation (fetish) of chasing national stories that others were doing better at the expense of local news was one of several gripes that led me to stop reading Newsday years ago. (Their bias and smarmyness was another). I don’t regret it for a minute. (PS: Just so you know, I grew up in a newspaper family. My dad was a Hearst editor and by the time I was 10 I was devouring our local paper and the four he’d bring from the office each day. So, I would say that their loss of a reader like me is a big deal, indeed.)(PPS: You mentioned the Star-Ledger. My first job out of college was working the Sunday desk at the Ledger.)

  • Greg

    As a 30-year newspaper lover, reader and worker, I can’t argue.

    On one hand, I think too much ink (or bandwidth) is being consumed discussing something that is a fait accompli. Newspapers are on death watch: people increasingly do not care. First of all, they don’t want to read. Second of all … they increasingly don’t care about the LOCAL news, which is all that you give newspapers to do. The next generation of otherwise potential customers does not identify with their hometown or city of residence. They would just as soon leave, as most people seem to aspire to be somewhere “better,” rather than make where they are a better place. So if newspapers want to serve the next generation, liquidated their assets and purchasing moving companies is probably the best move.

    On the OTHER hand, however, we have to face the fact that newspaper profits are DOUBLE the average S&P 500 corporation. That does not happen to industries in trouble, does it? Are they making a smoother, more efficient transition than anyone is detecting?

  • Where in the article is International News! The local paper here in Saint Petersburg, FL, spends huge amounts of ink and pages REPRINTING what AP, or Reuters, or whoever says is going on in the world. WASTE OF TIME; WASTE OF MONEY! AND, what are they really doing? Repeating what AP says is going on. ALSO, the local paper has Foreign Correspondents! YES, the St Pete Times has a correspondent in Paris. WHY?

    The only section of the paper I read is on Sunday; its the Neighborhood Times! That’s it! If it were available every day I would read it every day. It tells me what I CANNOT read on line; what is going on in my neighborhood!

    The real reason Newspapers resist the changes you want is the same reason Big Media is shrinking nation wide. LAZINESS! Correspondents are by far the laziest profession in America. The dont dig. They dont want to work. Its much easier to simply COPY – PASTE and PRINT. This is why print media is dying; and die it will. Rick

  • I see Nellie’s concern that Jeff’s suggestions amount to ripping the heart out of papers that readers love. But the real problem is that, without some kind of radical changes, papers will continue to lose readers who are left cold by the product and turn away from it with no love lost. It’s not time to be overly sentimental.

  • I will re-submit the question?

    Can one self-identified leftist acknowledge that a huge part of the newspaper demise is from extreme and offensive ideological bias?

    Thanks Greg for supporting the misguided elitist contention that “people don’t read”.

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  • Eileen

    Captious Nut and Greg,

    I’m with you two. Imo, the Primary Reason print – as well as other forms of MSM – are dying is because of their blatent left wing bias. I have to choke back the bile with virtually every wire report I read and absolutely every nightly news show I suffer through. Most stories are opinion pieces. And then there’s all the news we Don’t Get due to that same bias.

    All the bloviating always ignores the obvious; it’s actually quite comical.

    Deny, deny, deny, MSM, and stick with your tired agenda at your own peril.

  • Eileen, I’ll agree with you up to a point. But, franakly, the whole “liberal rag” thing is overblown. I know plenty of liberals who have largely given up on newspaper because they’re not getting what they want/need from them. Also, it’s not like conservative papers like the New York Post and Washington Times are defying overall industry trends.

    As for CaptiousNut:

    “”Thanks Greg for supporting the misguided elitist contention that “people don’t read”.

    Huh? Look out! There’s probably a liberal elitist looking over your shoulder right now! You must be a journalist, putting words in my mouth the way you do. Saying that people are turning away from newspapers is the point of this whole thread. Why else would we need to talk remedies? They’re not giving up reading, they’re turning away from papers and to other sources.

  • CaptiousNut, I think you and Rick are both right at the same time. Bias and laziness.

    There are other issues that allow newspapers to think that their real problem of bias and laziness is not pivotal. For instance, losing the monopoly on classified allows them to think that they were doing their job just right before the internet. To them, it’s not them doing something wrong, but some uncontrollable force beyond them. As long as they think that, they will continue to die.

    Sears Roebuck was the same way (I worked for them for ten years). They became a truly bad company a long time ago, but coasted because they enjoyed that historic positioning. But then along came Wal-Mart and other challengers, and they couldn’t just coast anymore. And the new problems presented by Wal-Mart distracted them from the fact that the root of their trouble ran much deeper than simply “answering Wal-Mart”. There was corruption and ineptitude within that company like you wouldn’t believe — little wonder they couldn’t compete with a smart, efficient company.

    I mean, Wal-Mart had already established itself as a tougher negotiator with vendors on price, and Sears kept running ads touting “Sears buying power”, as if anybody believed that still meant something. Sears, like newspapers today, had simply become a lazy, lumbering, senseless, out-of-touch, directionless giant.

    I don’t see any reason to believe newspapers will change, any more than Sears did, just because some of the employees get it. If the management is clueless, it will remain so.

  • I dropped my subscription to my local paper when I realized that I was living on Internet time–by which measure a newspaper is always offering yesterday’s news.

    Some years before that, I quit buying the Sunday NYT when they dropped their Metro section from the edition they ship to where I live in Western New York. I don’t need two national papers (I read the WSJ) and without that local NYC piece, the Times hasn’t enough value to justify the cost.

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  • Rich

    I think you make some very poor arguments.

    I have worked for more than one newspaper where the primary sports columnist practically sold the paper. There was little else worth reading except the comics.

    And I appreciate local movie reviews. I get a sense of that person’s tastes and can form my own opinions in part with that information.

    Local news, huh? Has it crossed your mind that people’s definition of “local” is changing? Geography is as important as politics and interests, it seems.

  • Greg,

    You need to look over what you posted before you accuse anyone of putting words in your mouth. In your first comment, you unequivocally said,

    “First of all, they don’t want to read.”

    You didn’t say people don’t want to read “newspapers” – you just made a blanket statement that jibed with my original post. It is pretty tough for me to put words in your mouth by simply cutting and pasting your comment.

  • CaptiousNut,

    Apologies. I have to assume you were responding to a different Greg. I should have read through the whole thread and caught that. I’m the Greg who first posted at 1:02pm, FYI. Reposted here:

    “I see Nellie’s concern that Jeff’s suggestions amount to ripping the heart out of papers that readers love. But the real problem is that, without some kind of radical changes, papers will continue to lose readers who are left cold by the product and turn away from it with no love lost. It’s not time to be overly sentimental.”

  • And apologies to Greg#1…

  • Deconstructing the Buzzmachine

    Jeff Jarvis, former newspaper executive and columnist, has an interesting post today: Deconstructing the newspaper in which he gives a lot of free advice on how to change daily newspaper. To bloggers, I am sure this looks fresh. To newspaper veterans, been there, done that.

    The local, local, local mantra has been around 50 years or more. It has yet to save a newspaper. The Cleveland Press was twice as local as the Plain Dealer. The Press folded in 1982.

    Jarvis makes two big assumptions that are just plain wrong. The first is that all newspapers are the big unionized bureaucracies that he worked for.

    The second is that newspapers are no longer cash cows. Moo. Moo. Windfall oil profits are nothing in comparison.

    But his audience is not newspaper people, it is bloggers. He strokes their egos and anti-MSM bias. It is a little unnerving to read your fellow bloggers rooting for the demise of your industry. I wonder when some of them will get over having that letter to the editor rejected.

    Jarvis mixes bad advice with worse. For example, he starts out by saying newspapers should ditch stock tables. Sounds reasonable. No one reads the 11 a.m. tables at 5 p.m.

    But if ditching the stock tables saves money, why has only one newspaper done so? Could it be that newspaper sizes are set by advertisers? Could it be that stock tables provide one more page that does not have to fill with expensive staff-written or syndicated copy?

    So ditch the cheap page for an expensive page? If it were this easy, trust me, publishers would do it. No one is cheaper than a newspaper publisher, and I mean that in a nice, pro-capitalism way.

    Jarvis knows all this. But pander he must.

    He does get his history wrong. For the most part, newspapers were thin and quick when they dominated the news. After radio came along, sports, business, lifestyles (Society Pages) grew as a means of countering the erosion of news readers.

    I seriously doubt nickel-pinching publishers took on these added expenses on a whim. Nor do they continue to do so. At great expense, the Wall Street Journal expanded it pages to include these non-business news items.

    But as I said, Jarvis is pandering to bloggers. Hence he holds that newspapers should put their guts on the Web, where bloggers can recycle it freely without paying the wire service for all that agate.

    The Jarvisian model is the Springfield Shopper, where stringers cover events, post them online and await for the brilliance of bloggers to put it all in perspective.

    Nonsense. Utter nonsense.

    Rather than surrendering like cheese-eating monkeys, newspapers should stand their ground. We survived radio. We survived newsreels. We survived television. We survived the Satellite News Network. (Oops, it died.) We will survive people in pajamas.

  • kateCoe

    I disagree on food–the LATimes food section was a fascinating look at local foods, places to eat and people who make food, but now reads like any generic in-flight magazine, largely due to the use of free-lancers who live anywhere but in LA. The readership for this section was large and loyal, too.

  • Don Surber,

    “It is a little unnerving to read your fellow bloggers rooting for the demise of your industry”???

    Yeah, Don. It is also unnerving to read the newspapers rooting for “insurgents”, global warming, and economic disaster.

    “I wonder when some of them will get over having that letter to the editor rejected.”???

    Typical editorial condescension. What business school is that where you studied Customer Disparagement-101 ?

    “anti-MSM bias”???

    Now that is hilarious. You will acknowlege a monolith MSM but only to decry a bias against it.

    I am now rooting for your paper to fail as well.

  • Old Grouch

    “…get no ad revenue…”

    Let me tell you a story, and then pose a question.

    Years ago I worked for a small chain of theaters in a large midwestern city. We ran a (paid) daily directory ad, with displays on the weekends. Not big bucks as such things go, but good, steady, revenue for the paper. Here’s how our local monopoly treated us: Set their space rates so, despite being a daily advertiser, we would never see a discount. Screw up the copy so frequently that we wound up hiring an agency to produce camera-ready ads (and then reward us for making the paper’s job easier with a “plate production” charge– and yes, they were running offset). Redesign the paper for fewer columns, except, whoops!, keep the “old” column widths for calculating advertising space. Give us the benefits of modern production efficiencies by advancing the close for the Sunday entertainment section from Thursday to Tuesday. Oh, and raise the basic rate every year, without fail.

    The movie “section” used to be a couple of pages on weekdays, four or more on weekends. In today’s paper it’s one page with 45 column-inches of paid agate type directory ads for 190-some screens. And a few displays (one for the local flea market). And a Knight-Ridder story about movie trailers. Where are the advertisers? Priced ’em out of the market.

    Newspapers price space so that the only companies that can afford it are the department stores and auto dealers. (Which works until Federated buys out the local chain and then cuts newspaper by 50%.) There are probably lots of smaller businesses that would love to be in the sports section (along with the “tire ads”), but can’t afford to buy in full-page chunks. (Who knows, there might even be some that wouldn’t mind appearing next to that “it-doesn’t-bring- in-any-revenue” bridge column or book review.) These businesses spend a lot of money on radio and cooperative mailings. Why aren’t newspapers getting any of it?

    Newspapers have lost their ability to sell advertising in chunks that are smaller than a full page but bigger than four agate lines. Do you suppose that if they figured out how to tap that intermediate market, there might be fewer complaints about features that “don’t bring in any revenue?”

  • My response to Don in his comments:

    Don: Fair, points, of course. A few responses:
    The Ledger and the Tribune certainly see financial benefit in killing the stock tables. Every paper I know is trimming news hole to save paper and ink and this is part of that. My bigger point, though, is making the calculation: At a given profitablity-per-reader, how many would have to cancel to balance the cost of maintaining the tables.
    As for the cash cow: Yes, they are absolutely cash cows now; thus the interest of lbo firms. But I also have said that this can blind a company to the strategic necessity of making changes.
    I know lots of papers that are, sadly, bureaucracies. See the post that followed (is above) the one you link to with the lament of someone in a newsroom.
    I think we could have a good discussion about issues and options without resorting to accusations of pandering, though.

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  • Peter Hughes

    A very interesting list of ideas which might work, if tried. However, were I in a position to change a local paper (or a National), I’d start with the publication of facts. People need newspapers to gather facts. From those facts they build, bolster or change the opinions they held before they paid for the paper. Over the past 40 or so years, the professional standards have changed (I grew up in a newspaper family) and it has become fashionable for newspapers to express opinion and, worse, to fashion public opinion by withholding facts.

    A fundamental business premise is “propagation” of the business. Not only are daily business decisions supposed to generate profit, they are also supposed to “propagate” (read: extend the life of) the business by another day or week or month by attracting long-term, committed customers. Newspapers no longer attract committed readership because they are hollow documents. They no longer leave room for the reader to make up his or her own mind.

    Newspapers have forgotten readership and the needs of readers. Many of the Comments you have in this “reply” section have made that point, over and over, in different ways. Your own analysis touched on it.

    If a sluggish local paper formatted in the popular manner nowadays suddenly shifted its philosophy and forgot opinion and began printing long, boring lists of facts…they would gain readership. Imagine days and days of lists of facts, about Iraq, about Washington, about economics, about any subject…including the Police Blotter for the past year…. Readership would initially pick up, by word of mouth alone. People might laugh at it, but people would talk about it. And buy the papers.

    Bloggers are successful for their opinions, we all know that. But it is more than opinion. Good bloggers, even in expressing their political opinions, are most successful and popular for presenting those opinions in the context of facts presented.

    Readers want and need fact. The rest they put up with. Take the facts away and you withdraw the motive to buy the paper.

  • Adjoran

    Some of your advice is good, some not so good.

    All of it is wasted.

    Having worked in the industry for more than three decades, from Fortune 500 chains to small, locally owned papers, I can state unequivocally that newspapers cannot change radically. Upper management, of the multibillion dollar corporation or the local weekly, regards changing their policies as something rather more serious than the Catholic Church changing doctrine.

    They simply cannot and will not react quickly enough to survive. The opportunity to do so is passing without being taken. Not a single publication has yet figured out how to adapt to the changing landscape of how news is delivered.

    Now, if some paper had caught on, and made those changes successfully, the rest would have followed, because that is the only way change spreads swiftly in this industry. Once USA Today hit a million in circulation, every paper in the country was using more color than the Rainbow Coalition, for example. But no newspaper has done that, and now it appears unlikely any will.

    Changes to the dead tree versions are of little import. Newspapers must, to survive, figure out how to make money with their online versions. The readers who are addicted to newsprint ink on their fingers are growing older by the day.

    It’s sad, but it’s over.

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  • Ryan

    Operating based on a sample of ONE conservative newspaper is a bit of an interesting way to illustrate a trend.

    There just aren’t enough conservative or right leaning newspapers out there to make any significant judgement.

  • Kevin F

    1. Like Fox News discovered the “niche” market that encompassed half of the population, I can’t understand why this “niche” has been left untouched by state and local papers. In Minnesota, I no longer buy the St Paul Pioneer Press or Mpls Strib because they lean so far left in the news sections.

    2. I am not a sports fanatic, but I do read the articles on my son’s high school teams. Yet our local paper concentrates little effort in making that their core effort. The Timberwolves? Yawn. I want photos and columns on my local teams.

    3. Whenever the local paper has a two-page spread of editorials, it gets read. Why don’t they do this every day? Free writers, too.

    4. I hate comics on-line. So put an ad next to them in print; what do I care?

    5. Local movies, entertainment, and food news. Available nowhere else. Desired by audience and advertisers. Does not exist except in small quantities. Good business decision?

  • Reconstruction Online Newspapers

    Yesterday, Jeff Jarvis offered his helpful home hints for newspapers called Deconstructing the newspaper to which I responded with Deconstructing the Buzzmachine. On my post: Never confuse clever for wise.

    Now for how these little cash cows called newspapers can make their more money for their rich publishers: Move online like the Wall Street Journal did. That means charge people.

    The NY Times Select has 330,000 people shucking $50 a year to read MoDowd? Put down that gun, Willie Sutton, this is legalized bank robbery. That is $16.5 million a year (minus costs of administering this) to recycle garbage. We spare a few trees. Paying online readers get an immediacy.

    Start with the sports section. Those stats for local sports are little gold mines. My paper has been compiling them for 60 years or more going back to the post-World War II years.

    Lawhawk suggested in the comments section of that previous post that NYT alienated readers.

    Who cares? They are the NYT’s 10 million daily online readers. They are not paying customers. Screw ’em.

    Second, make everything a PDF. Why make it easier for cut-and-paste theft? Screw ’em. Bloggers want the news, let them go out and fetch it. Newsrooms spend a lot of money sending reporters out to cover boring council meetings and to check police reports. Quit giving away online the guy who screws the Nativity sheep.

    As an added plus, PDFs are easier to upload. Being computer challenged, I know there is a way to make PDFs more secure. Do it. Dismantle that right click that is robbing ya blind, Mrs. Publisher.

    Mothers used to tell girls to hold out for marriage: Why buy the cow when the milk is free. Owners of the cash cows, listen to your mother.

    Finally, write better headlines. This is a theme of mine. Example: Drudge repackaged a story the Washington Times called: “Laura defends the GOP.” Drudge concentrated on who Mrs. Bush had on her iPod (who knew Dolly Parton sang, “Stairway to Heaven”?)

    Now then, for Jarvis. Here was his response in full:
    Don: Fair, points, of course. A few responses:

    The Ledger and the Tribune certainly see financial benefit in killing the stock tables. Every paper I know is trimming news hole to save paper and ink and this is part of that. My bigger point, though, is making the calculation: At a given profitablity-per-reader, how many would have to cancel to balance the cost of maintaining the tables.

    As for the cash cow: Yes, they are absolutely cash cows now; thus the interest of lbo firms. But I also have said that this can blind a company to the strategic necessity of making changes.

    I know lots of papers that are, sadly, bureaucracies. See the post that followed (is above) the one you link to with the lament of someone in a newsroom.
    I think we could have a good discussion about issues and options without resorting to accusations of pandering, though.
    I take back the pandering. I apologize for the cheapshot. I should remember to disagree without being disagreeable.

    The irony is, I am giving away my opinions online for free :)

  • John McGinnis


    Lets say that a local paper did what you suggest, what would be the end result? To my thinking a local version of USAToday. Most everything in section A would be syndicated. Section B would be but a smathering of some local events. Section C would be classifieds and sports. At that point would I even subscribe to such a paper? My take is no.

    Maybe you have covered this before, but from a cost perspective the problem with papers today is DISTRIBUTION. It costs too much today in 4color press, trucks and drivers to get a broadsheet out the door. The news gathering is cheap in comparison. Now interestingly, papers already have the infrastructure in the news gathering, markup, edit and pre press cycle. In fact that is their advantage over the blogger.

    But the newspapers have not understood that instead of pushing down to prepress they need to redirection that information flow to the web. They need to start offering online-pulp offers in subscriptions. Over time shift the cheaper rates to online and let the subscriber decide how they get their news. But most over time will go online.

    But the real crux to whether papers survive is can they recapture the online ad revenue? If they can’t then they will be just another piece of roadkill to the eBay juggernaut.

  • Don Surber,

    $16.5 million in TimeSelect revenue? Is anyone supposed to be wowed by that number?

    They probably pay upwards of $80 mill a year JUST ON THE INTEREST of their $1.33 billion in debt. A company needs growth to pay off its debt but this concept may be beyond your ken.

    “The irony is, I am giving away my opinions online for free ”

    Sorry Don, that is all they are worth.

  • Kevin F,
    As to your number 1, I don’t think we can ignore the True Believer mindset of the editorial staff in major newspapers today. I used to think that editors were pandering to minorites in order to get their subscriptions, but I think it goes deeper than that. They have an almost religious belief in things like multiculturalism, enviromentalism, etc., and so their slant or bias will never change.

    C.F., see this howler about the mysterious disappearing shopping carts. An ordinary person would see a crime being comitted and address it, but that goes against dogma.

  • You are wrong on sports and the “details.” We live in a detail-oriented sports world. Have you seen ESPN2 or ESPNEWS lately? They’ve packed every concievable detail onto the screen beause sports fans crave it. The same still applies to the sports page, where the die-hard audience (which is, what, 25%-50%?) flips right to the box scores.

    You may also want to consider the huge popularity of fantasy football and fantasy baseball, which thrive on the most minor of statistics. If a sports page only gave the scores or a brief blurb about the games it would be of no use to me. In fact, I think you could make a strong case that sports news is getting more and more data-driven than caopy driven. Many people don’t need the news story to see what the big plays in a game were, just give ’em the stats.

    I love the idea of increasing the level of detail for local sports — it would be fantastic. But skimping on similar detail for the national sports news would be a mistake. The internet and cable tv has enabled fans to root for teams all over the country and people have grown to expect a certain level of detail in that regard. And when you consider that a paper does not have to produce this content themselves I think it’d be well worth it. How they choose to place advertising, however, is another matter and frankly I never understood why things like box scores were so conveniently consolidated when seemingly profitable advertisements could be interspersed within.

  • Orion

    Brilliant, I love that the orwellian double-speak is written into the title of this post.

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  • Alan

    As Jeff Jarvis further illustrates that the old cliche “Denial is not just a river in Egypt” I review my own MSM ingestion habits and have come to the conclusion that liberalism sucks… I mean really it does ;-) Leaping lizards as soon as Fox news became available on Direct TV my cable provider and CNN were history at my flop! Local Rag has already had to shut down the morning paper and I believe they tried everything that ole Jeff suggested.
    Now the Evening rag is in trouble!!! I quit buying it sometime in the eighties TOOOOOO leftist. As a 59 model and last of the Boomers I have real perspective and can say that liberalism is finally on its way out. Though not quietly. TOOOOOOOO Bad If your a conservative and sometimes you feel like what I say isn’t true roll this little nugget around in your brain. Some hoytie toytie liberal think tank recently listed Birmingham Alabama as the 20th most liberal city in the United States.
    Believe me when I say the the whole liberal movement is in trouble it really is ……..

    Blue State Refuge living In the Heart of Dixie thankfully by the grace of GOD for the last twenty years!!!!!!!!!!!

  • writerdave

    Much truth to this post. I work for a very teeny weekly. No one has ever called me and said they loved the TV times in last week’s issue. But I still get calls from people who remember the story I wrote more than a year ago when I exposed that town council gave a $100K pay off to the town’s administrator in return for him leaving quietly.

    Local is where it’s at – at least as far as small town papers go. It doesn’t have to be hard news either. A newspaper can get a ton of mileage out of sending a photographer around to take pictures at the church bake sale, at the school if something’s going on, etc.

  • It has been two full days and I have asked this question twice now:

    “Can one self-identified leftist acknowledge that a huge part of the newspaper demise is from extreme and offensive ideological bias?”

    Judging by the wide dissemination of this blog thread, no doubt thousands of people have read the comments here, yet my question is still unanswered by a single person.

    Self-proclaimed media reformers or not, you people are choking to death on your own denial.

  • Maureen

    Here’s my take, which combines several opinions by others.

    1. Facts. Get ’em right, especially about things people care about: spellings of local people’s kids’ names, industries important to the town, local sports.

    2. Local. I think there are two factors here — all sorts of news, including little local events and big local stories; and giving people a framework for the news. Let people know who the school board folks are before the stuff hits the fan on the school board. Make each town’s doings something that people can follow, just like a sports team, by letting people get a good picture of what’s going on in the frame.

    We used to have a great local cartoonist who just did little one-panel cartoons every week about Ohio history. It was interesting to adults, and it also really built my picture of Ohio’s full story. Every town and village and neighborhood has a story, too.

    3. Fun! You don’t want to read just serious stuff in the newspaper. You want to have something for folks to turn to when the news is bad or their own day is. Having some of that fun be local creates a feeling of bonding between the paper and the readers. You have a shared experience. Erma Bombeck was better when she was a local columnist than when she had to cut out all that local stuff for the benefit of all you outsiders she got syndicated to.

    4. Excellence. If people consistently get the best darned paper you can possibly put out, the readers will appreciate it and feel sorry for all those benighted folks who don’t get the paper. They will sell it for you. They will stick with you. Awards are nice, but being darned good is better.

  • 1. Going local is a great idea. Why isn’t there more of it? It’s expensive. You can run the boxscore for one pro sports team — or for a dozen high schools. Except for a small group of dedicated fans who read it all, your high school audience is split a dozen ways. And it takes 12 times the space and 12 times the labor to get it in the paper. And, sure, people love it when you catch the mayor with hands in the till, but not all mayors steal. Even the best investigative papers can’t make a living chasing fraud every day. And people love it when you print the photo of their kids’ Little League team. But there are lots of teams, and those photos take lots of time and space.

    2. The elephant in the corner, mentioned a place or two above: Can even local news save papers? My perception is that people are far less connected to their communities than they once were. Fewer of them vote, fewer join civic clubs, fewer go to theaters, fewer even know how to read a property tax statement, much less reform the process. Did newspapers help cause that problem? Can they solve it? Maybe. Maybe. The answer matters a great deal more than whether editors dump stock tables.

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  • David Kaye

    Perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t think you’ve given any reasons for local newspapers to exist. What is local news exactly? It’s the local water board meetings, the garden shows, and the “local boy makes good” stories. And for most audiences all of those are yawners.

  • Two things:

    1) This assumes that everyone wants to sit in front of their computer to digest information. Until e-ink comes along and the digital divide narrows (not to mention a still significant percentage of aging Luddites), there still is a need for paper-based information.
    2) We keep talking about local, local, local in newspapers, but here’s the rub. Take a brief survey of the people working on the metro/city desks of most newspapers, and you’ll find tenuous connections to the local community. Most have probably lived there for less than five years. So, the allegedly most important franchise of the newspaper is being staffed by itinerant college kids and other similarly unknowledgeable about the local community. Ugh!!

  • I love these messages about the “biased liberal news media.” Not that there isn’t any. It’s just that what 90% of the complainers want is a biased conservative news media. If they would just be out front about that, that would be fine, but of course they complain that they want an objective news media. Which is exactly what they don’t want.

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  • Nearly all of these suggestions are good and well-reasoned. But the idea about nixing staff sports columnists is as wrong as wrong can be. It’s all about local coverage, right? Well, what syndicated columnist consistently covers any local team or local issue — college, high school or pro?

    My paper covers three college programs — Louisville, Kentucky and Indiana — that, despite their relatively high profile, might not interest a national sports columnist more than once a year. Start feeding your sports-section readers a steady diet of non-local columns and you can bet they will steadily drop the newspaper, too. They can get sports news — advances, game stories and such — off the Internet, via AP. But except for the local newspaper, they can’t get sports commentary about the teams and sports they care most about. Getting rid of staff sports columnists would be a colossal mistake — and savagely ironically if it was done in the name of “improving” a paper’s coverage of local news.

    And, no, I’m not a sports columnist.

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  • There are few national stories that don’t have a local hook, if you take the time to find it. Olympics? Athletes all over working for their personal best. Financial problems? Dozens dealing with it almost on every city block. Mine disaster in West Virginia? There are work hazards in industries across the country. When I was in J-school, we were taught to make everything local – find the hook. I don’t see much of that now. And what does pass for local is often what the media want to be important rather than what is – like the Richard Scrushy trial here in B’ham. Did I care a little what happened? Yes. Did I care 2 1/2 pages of newsprint and 10 min of TV news airtime daily? Not even close. I’d rather hear about what local politicians think about eminent domain, given the recent Supreme Court decision and the efforts to target Souter’s home in New Hampshire. Are property owners here at risk?

    There’s so much news out there that locals would find interesting, it’s an embarrassment of riches. And so little of it is actually covered by the local news outlets that it’s an embarrassment.

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  • Ex-Zonie

    I don’t know about their pages full of stock quotes but the Wall Streen Journal seems very successful. Maybe it’s an exception or an anomaly.

  • Hmm. I wonder how many readers got here by following a Web link from their local newspaper editor’s new blog?

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  • I agree with you the way you view the issue. I remember Jack London once said everything positive has a negative side; everything negative has positive side. It is also interesting to see different viewpoints & learn useful things in the discussion

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  • Newspapers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Wall Street castigates them for lack of growth and for failing to embrace technological change, but also expects them to maintain 30 percent-plus profit margins.

    The state of the news media report, just released, estimates that if online revenue grew annually by a third, and newspapers ’ print ad revenue grew by just 3 percent, online revenue wouldn’t surpass print revenue until the year 2018. And that depends on continued 33 per cent online growth rates, which most analysts believe is highly unlikely.

    The fundamental question remains: Who pays for journalism??

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  • Mayelle

    Hello Mr. Jarvis

    You might not be wrong in what you are saying. It is your opinion. But I believe that other aspects such as jobs and tradition are important.

    Buying newspapers is a tradition to many people. For some when you buy your bread in the morning, you also buy your newspaper! While waiting for someone or something you read your newspaper. It is anchored in many people’s lifes.

    Newspapers also offer jobs to more people than online publishers do.

    Society should care about people’s welfare first. And one good way is to create jobs for more people!

    Thanks for allowing us to put our comments, that’s a brilliant idea!!


  • edward

    A few disagreements:
    Stock tables are an easy hit, but look at the knock-along consequences. A recent story in E&P said that 67 percent of senior executives now rank the Internet as their No. 1 source for business news versus newspapers, up 37 percent over the last four years. These are well-heeled readers and often family breadwinners who determine family spending patterns, so you really don’t want to piss them off. But you did that by eliminating stock tables and cut back on business news. Look also at the success of the Wall Street Journal on this front, and that newspaper continues to print stock reports.
    So, yes, you can cut stock tables, but there will be blood if you do it, as newspapers are finding out. Advertisers follow money, so are going to the Internet where family breadwinners now get their news. Only a few hundred people are affected, but it is that key demographic you want to keep if you want to survive.
    2. Sure, you can get comics and features on the Internet, but how many people click on comic sites daily? Not that many, I bet, because it is so clumsy to use these sites and comparatively so easy to read a newspaper page. It is a matter of efficiency, something that is a plus for newspapers, and you have to have some regular comfortable and familiar furniture in your paper.
    3. You sure should have the 15,001st reporter at the convention if he/she is providing you local news on your delegation others aren’t providing. If they are there covering Obama/McCain or doing color, I would agree with you. But I can see an argument for original content even in a flooded event. I would make this same argument for Congress and Washington news, with the caveat it has to be local and original.
    4. Agree with you on eliminating the editorial board and national columnists. The Internet provides a vast sea of opinion, and I frankly don’t care what my local editor thinks about gun control in Washington, D.C. I might like an opinion on the need for more zebra crossings at the downtown park, or the need for more efficient garbage collection.
    5. Agree warmly on local-local, and more local. I can’t make the council sessions, so I count on newspapers to tell me everything that happened. I want to know about all local crimes and fires. I want to know about local taxes and changes in traffic patterns affecting my commute.

  • Sales and publications of traditional newspapers have been in decline for the past few years. Free local newspapers still have their place and local businesses still see the value of marketing and ad spend.

    Of course the decline has been due to online media and mobile communications. Traditional broadsheets are now big players online and the UK nationals now have a significant presence online.

    However, there will always be a place for the traditional newspaper. Who wants to lie in bed on a Sunday morning with their laptop reading the news?

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  • We are not far off from seeing the end of the newspaper altogether. I cancelled mine a few years ago. By the time it was delivered, I already had found everything I had an interest in that day online.

  • Thanks for this great post. This is very helpful for someone looking for a transcription article. I will be checking your site again soon.

  • The real reason Newspapers resist the changes you want is the same reason Big Media is shrinking nation wide. LAZINESS! Correspondents are by far the laziest profession in America. The dont dig.

    Anyway ton of thanks for submit article.

  • I think we are not far off from seeing the end of the newspaper altogether. I cancelled mine a few years ago. By the time it was delivered, I already had found everything I had an interest in that day online.