I Don’t Read Newspapers, But I’d Read Your Blog

February 16, 2007

I do sometimes pick up a newspaper, but it’s often a free one, for when I don’t feel like listening to my iPod or I need something to protect myself from the rain. I can’t even remember the last time I bought one.

This post is largely a response to this article (Red All Over) by Wall Street Journal reporter Steven Rattner, who is worried about the continuing slide in newspaper readership. It features some pretty grim graphs, all resembling a downhill ski slope falling off the edge of a cliff.

He says many journalists would like to blame their bosses, that continue with layoffs in response to declining readership, resulting in a decline in quality of newspapers, as the reason for yet more declining readership.

I disagree – I’m convinced it’s the medium. The content contained in a newspaper is totally interesting to me. It’s the dead tree media – the delivery mechanism – that I despise. I also hate the total lack of communication with other readers and writers. I can’t hyperlink to a page in a paper, I can’t easily copy it and email it to anybody, and I can’t reference it on this blog. I even get frustrated turning the pages because I can’t just find a headline I like and click on it.

Yesterday’s news is tomorrow’s fish-and-chip paper. When I pick up a print newspaper, I feel like I’m reading yesterday’s news today.

People complain about how MP3s are lossy compression. A dead-tree newspaper is essentially becoming a lossy, inconvenient, out-of-date copy of the interactive news I can get online. I nearly find it strange that anybody would pay for it.

Why is this a surprise to anybody? Everything is moving online – bill pay, email, music, maps, television.

But instead of focusing on the obvious, Rattner falls back on the quality argument, that Americans are becoming less interested in news, choosing instead to read entertainment or gossip. He doesn’t see it so simply that newspapers are just moving online and it’s a simple matter of replacing all the news delivery trucks with servers.

I’ll just say one thing. While that is a valid point, what is the next course of action? This sounds like: it’s not my fault, and I can’t do anything about this, because the forces are larger than just me and my profession.

I say if you’re up against the wall, at least follow the arrows pointing in the obvious direction to save yourself. This should be looked on as a business opportunity, not a death sentence. It’s pretty clear what us readers (think “customers”) want. And we’re the Person of The Year, gosh darn-it. It becomes a matter of customer service – the foundation of any healthy business.

Newspapers contain what I want, but in an inconvenient package, so I don’t buy them.

But there’s a positive side. Any reporter with years of experience writing for a newspaper has a gigantic leg up, in the form of concise writing, objectivity, and dedication to the craft. You have more marketable skills than the suits that merely shuffle chairs and count beans. If you’re used to deadlines on a daily basis, you might be well suited for the constantly changing nature of tech industry reporting. Smart, fast, accurate, and interesting writing is in seriously short supply on the web. All it takes is the guts to leap, which is scary, but I think infinitely preferable to being pushed by a pink slip.

As a non-professional writer, I find the hardest part about blogging is the writing: coming up with stories, and dedicating myself to something new every day – all of which I imagine are second nature to a professional journalist. I think it would be easier (or at least an equivalent challenge) for a non-technical writer to run a successful blog than me, a technical person trying to educate myself (or re-educate, in that I used to write for my college newspaper) on writing.

I’d love to see a newspaper just continue paying all its reporters the same salary, but set them up with blogging software and say, go to it. Turn the newspaper’s web site into a blogging network.

I, the reader, am still reading. I’m just looking in a different place. I’ve moved on, to digital downloads and CDs – while the newspaper industry is still pumping out cassette tapes.

Additional Reading: iFocos 

Comments

  1. Jason, did you ever read a newspaper? Was there any time in the past when you were a regular reader of, say, a Sunday paper or a weekly arts paper? Years ago I used to get the Sunday New York Times on my way home from work about 4 a.m. Sunday morning. Then I would go to sleep. When I woke up about noon I would have this luscious big gob of interesting stuff to wallow in while I drank coffee and celebrated the end of my work week. But now that’s not my lifestyle. That’s why I don’t read the newspaper (the printed ones) anymore.

  2. webomatica says:

    I was a subscriber to the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times for several years. Both slowly whittled away – We reduced it to even only the Sunday editions, but in the end, even that was too much. I actually felt guilty recycling these thick masses of paper, of the sections we never found the time read. I think it’s been about two years since we had a newspaper subscription.

    But guess what, pretty much daily, I’m checking out SFGate (The San Francisco Chronicle’s website) and NYTimes online.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, I apprecite it!

  3. Scott Abel says:

    Good points. I agree, the newspaper industry must change. And, it is. Gannett is introducing user-generated news. Reuters is running an online news bureau on Second Life. And, increasingly, local papers are starting to develop web-based solutions.

    The missing element is still personalization. Newspapers have a whole lot of content. In just one issue there are perhaps millions of words, most of which are not of interest to each individual reader. What’s needed is the delivery of the right news, to the right readers, in the right language, at the right time, and in the right format (delivered to the right device). We’ve been doing this in the technical communication and content management spaces for some time now (with the help of structured XML authoring). It’s time for newspapers to adopt this model. It will save them money in the long-run, prevent defections (folks unsubscribing), and make it even more — much more — attractive to advertisers who want to deliver ads with pin-point accuracy.

    Thanks for introducing this interesting topic. I’m sure we’ll hear more about this in the future.

    Scott Abel
    TheContentWrangler.com

    Join Content Management Professionals today: http://www.cmpros.org

  4. webomatica says:

    Hi Scott, I think you are totally right. I’d love to be able to load a personal version of the new york times that shows the topics I”m interested in.

    I’m already playing around with feed readers and filtering out only certain stories (Cats for one).

  5. darrenh says:

    So why aren’t newspapers moving to the web faster? It’s the money. Advertising revenue online is such a different game that paper publishers are not finding it easy to switch. And who can blame them? Most every newspaper is quite profitable. It is not easy to cast off a profitable product for a brave new world — no matter how end-user friendly. Print advertising pays the bills of that news staff. Online revenue, for most dead tree publishers, isn’t up to that yet, even if you don’t have to print a product. But the reality of declining circulation is forcing the issue.

  6. Webomatica says:

    Certainly, the business is in transition. There must be a point in the future though, where the online audience suprasses the print audience and the advertising money has to follow the eyeballs.