Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Saving Newspapers From Themselves

It is obvious to me that newspapers are on the wane. Part of this is due to the Internet, but not by any means is it all the modern electronic age. Much of the blame is right squarely in the managing editor's or the publisher's office. Blinded by tradition and misled by advertising departments, much of the problem can be cured, but not by reduction in services. Let me explain.

First, there are three interest areas in print journalism. The advertiser, the news department and of course the reader. Actually, I shouldn't have said of course when referring to the reader. I have been in sales all my life. The first priority is always the consumer. Unfortunately that simple fact isn't recognized by the executives cooped up in their tradition bound offices, with lesser editors bowing, scraping and toadying to the boss. In short, most editors haven't learned much since the cub reporter days in which their only concern was the area the wrote about.

Let's start by discussing advertisers. They have but one god. Numbers. The more readers or circulation a paper has, the more advertisers they attract. They are not concerned with much else. Position in the paper is a factor, which if it inconveniences the reader is a negative. One of my points is that newspapers as a whole and the spokesman-Review as an example, since that is the one I read daily, are not user friendly. Not just in one way, but many.

My biggest peeve is the jumps. There are usually four main stories on page one. All of them jump to another page for the balance of the story. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but considering where they jump to, is. For example, when I read my paper, a daily ritual, I cuss at least three or four times while reading from cover to cover. Sloppy jumps are the devil at work. Printer's devil. (I couldn't resist the pun. Sorry)

When jumping from the front page to the interior of the paper, one of two things should happen. Either it should appear on a facing page or the back page. The back page is a natural, except the advertising department gets to sell it at a premium. Why? Because it is the most convenient page for the reader to see. Instead, they jump to an odd numbered page, causing the reader to fold the paper which takes several frustrating shakes and bends. Jumping to an even number lets the reader open the paper without the gyrations previously sneered.

By submitting to the ad department over reader convenience, management has forgotten, if they ever knew, the consumer, which is in charge of circulation and purchases from advertisers. Yet the reader is the last in line priority wise. The bottom line here is that advertisers will flock to a popular publication. Period. Secondly, find a circulation manage that is effective. The last one screwed everything up, failed to cover the areas written about then got promoted. Go figure. In North Idaho, many areas we covered news wise,were not being circulated for the people written about to read their own stories.

Win back the readers you have lost by becoming better balanced on the opinion pages and cease opining on the news sections. In the case of the S/R, Outdoor editor, Rich Landers is so politically biased he should be relegated to the editorial page. Shawn Vestal oozes his political prejudices in the news section. Even William Randolph Hurst would roll over in is grave with today's lack of fairness and separation of opinion and news. This part is difficult to change, because of what I see as a flagrant bias toward liberal causes on editorial staffs. When all are in agreement, is is difficult to be unbiased. It is vital that editors bend over backward to be fair. Your readers are of all persuasions, not just yours.

Many stories in a paper get missed. Why? By jumping to an interior page, many times a reader forgets to go back to the front and start over, missing the stories that are buried in the interior pages. My solutions? Read on.

Refuse to sell the back page. You will get more advertising revenue by turning the tide and increasing circulation. Keep jumps to a minimum and jump to a convenient place, and for crying out loud, stop doing reverse jumps. While structuring or composing a paper is a challenge, it won't be if your readers disappear and you shut your doors.

In the case of the Spokesman-Review, local news, which sells more papers that national and international which can be obtained up to the minute through CNN, Fox news, CNBC, Etc. The S/R has gotten away from local news with the elimination of the Handle Extra, eliminating an entire region just 30 miles away. Folks want to see their activities and that of their children in print. During my time writing for the Idaho editions, I found that to be extremely true.

I admit to some bias in regards to the demise of the Idaho Handle Extra and prior to that, the Voices. Who ever thought up the concept of the neighborhood voices was or is brilliant. I suspect it is a was, since it was probably Stephen Smith that started it and others that dismantled it. Smith resigned because he had the heart of a journalist, not a bean counter. He couldn't stay on board to preside at the paper's funeral.

Back to the reader. If you please me and the others, circulation will increase, and following that, advertising revenue will increase, allowing for more, better local news coverage. You cannot lay off the Idaho advertising staff then claim the Idaho editions were losing money due to lack of ads. Bring back Smith or someone that has printers ink flowing in his or her veins. Reducing the size and breadth of the paper is re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

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