Apr 1, 2008

Think tank thoughts

I'd like to think it was my brilliant argument that inspired Elaine Clisham of the Newspaper Next 2.0 to respond to my post about the PR Newswire Media Survey, but I suspect it was the name calling and a Google alert.

Either way, I appreciate that she has taken the time to make her case on my little blog. Her complete comment follows:
Greetings from the brainless think tank, and thanks for the shout-out.

You've made a key point about Newspaper Next right here -- "Turns out the same people who aren't reading papers don't participate in civic life, unless prompted to do so by some specific event." -- but I think you might have misunderstood N2's recommendations.

There will always be people who read the newspaper, and there will always be a critical need for the core mission that newspaper newsrooms perform. BUT, as you point out, that's only good for approximately 50% of any market; the other 50% has no interest, and no matter how hard we try we aren't going to make them interested. There's really no unmet "job" in terms of news: We're reaching the people who want the news we publish, and nothing we can do in the paper will reach the rest.

What N2 discusses is what newspaper organizations must do to generate growth outside the newspaper if they are to survive given this reality. The alternative is to circle our own drain, not an attractive option. The newspaper will always be part of the product portfolio, but it will be only one part of it, which is what's so different for most newspaper organizations. N2 offers methods for discerning where opportunities are for profitable additional products outside the newspaper, and that's what the survey results are reflecting: a broader view of demand for information. Not sure how a loss of tunnel vision is bad, and many newsroom staff members seem genuinely excited to be part of something innovative and interesting, as well as something critical to civic life.

But resources have to be found in order to invest in growth, and much as many journalists don't want to admit it, there's a tremendous amount of oversupply and inefficiency in the way many newsrooms do their jobs. That's the constriction against which journalists are rebelling, but the most successful newspapers are the ones that have made hard decisions about what they can stop doing in order to invest in new growth. There are many journalists who still hold a romanticized view of the profession, and this streamlining is clearly not what they signed on for. And, as you say, it's not always executed well. But it's going to be necessary as long as people want to get paid.

And why is new product development so important? Why, to protect the core mission of the newspaper, and to generate sustainable growth so the newsroom can continue to fulfill that core mission. Brainless, I know, but there you have it.

Cheers,

Elaine Clisham
American Press Institute

3 comments:

pissy said...

ohhhh. so the future of newspapers = not newspapers. cool! when can I go work for Kaplan? that's sort of like educating and informing the masses.

also, i would love "N2" to come visit my newsroom. with our six reporters covering an area where about a million people live, we don't see a lot of "oversupply and inefficiency." we are a skeleton crew, cut to the bone, almost completely unable to give our readers anything resembling the paper they deserve.

Shintzer said...

Therein lies the fallacy, which Reporter-G has already eloquently pointed out. Terms like "product development" are thrown about by so-called innovators, as if newspapers are any other product -- mere widgets, to use the well-worn cliche. Education, health care and media are three pillars of society that should not be regulated by the free market alone, because they are part of the public trust. We as a society must decide what form these institutions will take and how many resources we are willing to throw behind them. If they are weak, our democracy will suffer.

What, pray tell, does "oversupply" refer to? Newsroom staffs have already been cut into the bone. Overly long stories? Don't let them tell you this is about what the reader wants and not about saving ever more expensive newsprint. If the reader doesn't want to read all of a story, he doesn't have to, believe it or not. As long as we supply the key facts in a digestible nutgraf before the jump, we've fulfilled the user-friendly mandate. The rest is for people who want to know more. Our mission is to educate those who want to know more. They demand that extra mile. They will throw the paper aside in disgust and stop subscribing if we don't give it to them.

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