J's Notes

Newspapers: Adapt Or Die

Mar
02

Sen. Chap Petersen chimes in on yesterday’s Washington Post coverage on the lack of journalists:

Should anyone care if news reporting dies out?

That’s a great question.  Not everyone is obsessed by the state legislature.  However, on a day-to-day basis, it has more impact on the lives of Virginians than any other political body.  We write  the criminal laws,  the health laws, the divorce laws.  We shape and fund public education.  We plan and build highways.

While press coverage dwindles in Richmond, the content inevitably “dumbs down.”

One could argue that the dumbing down came first.

What the Post and other media outlets seem to be trying to do is set the tone. You NEED these reporters, you NEED this coverage, so you NEED to either subscribe to us or bail us out.

The problem is, these reporters and this coverage isn’t cutting it these days. The current structure of newspapers is a failed business model that has failed to adapt over the last ten years as the Internet has exploded into their turf.  Newspapers need to prove themselves to the public if they can even hope to woo back the dollars they need to survive.  That involves a reevaluation of the way they do business, whether it’s changing how they measure the quality of their product (based on actual quality of content as opposed to sales) or whether it’s changing direction.

Newsweek is trying this.  In a NYTimes article, Newsweek editor Jon Meachum noted:

“There’s a phrase in the culture, ‘we need to take note of,’ ‘we need to weigh in on,’ ” said Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham. “That’s going away. If we don’t have something original to say, we won’t. The drill of chasing the week’s news to add a couple of hard-fought new details is not sustainable.”

Newsweek loses money, and the consensus within its parent, the Washington Post Company, and among industry analysts, is that it has to try something big. The magazine is betting that the answer lies in changing both itself and its audience, and getting the audience to pay more.

Newsweek is hoping that it’s more opinionated and stylized take will create a fresh product that people may be willing to pay more.  While this isn’t entirely new – new for weeklies, old for journals like Foreign Affairs and such – it’s different enough that it might work.

But it’s change, it’s adaptation, and it’s an attempt to do something other than business as usual given that business has failed.

Specialization may be the key.  In a time when print is supposedly dying, Politcohas not only expanded its news operations but increased it’s print circulation from 27,000 to 32,000.  What Politico brings to the table isn’t just fresh ideas and content but a targeted market that appreciates the quality of their product.  Politico knows what it does well – inside the beltway political coverage – and capitalizes on it, not just in circulation but in advertising revenue as well.  It’s easier to woo a potential advertiser when you can easily help them target a specific market.

Newspapers on the other hand casts a wide net but generates no real bang in any one market enough to really capitalize.  The jack-of-all-trades mentality of newspapers of old isn’t working.  A newspaper is not an expert at all things and does not have the staff to pretend to be so.  The newspaper can no longer be a Swiss Army Knife of news in an era of specialized websites delivering better information from experts in a more timely manner.

Newspapers need to find their niche, their market, what they do well, and tweak accordingly.  Is sure isn’t going to be easy and it might not make as much money as papers once did, but evolution need to happen.

If newspapers don’t adapt, they’re going to die and they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.

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