What would you do?

What would you do if you ran a newspaper and discovered that:

* Half of your employees — including those in circulation — don’t subscribe?
* Half of your employees — including those in the newsroom — don’t read the paper (except for their own stories)?
* Half of your employees don’t subscribe to your e-newsletters?
* Half of your employees don’t have your website as the homepage on their computers?* Half of your employees in a grocery store walk past an open rack of papers in disarray and don’t straighten them out?
* Half of your employees use craigslist to buy and sell rather than your own classifieds?
* Half of your employees get emails, letters and phone calls from customers and don’t respond to them?
* Half of your employees remain quiet during conversations when others’ spoke falsely about the paper and its website?
* Half of your employees who use your website used a fake name to post comments?

What would you do? Anything? I would bet that at least half of your employees fit into most of those categories. Maybe it isn’t important, but I believe there is a great deal of information within your own workforce that can guide you to improve your paper and digital presence. If you can get them to be honest in explaining why the paper isn’t worth their time to read or money to subscribe, then that should guide some improvements.

It costs nothing but some pride.

P.S. It isn’t an acceptable answer to “make” them subscribe, make your website their home page, or clean up supermarket newspaper racks.

14 thoughts on “What would you do?

  1. I’ve worked at 2 companies where it’s PEOPLE were important according to the Management. The first, I discovered used it as a catch phrase as they did not back it up. The second is much different. The leader makes the extra effort to know every employee, to make us feel appreciated, to keep us as much up to date and involved in decisions. He knows that we are no paid as much as others in our field and his working to correct that as we have received raises for the past few years in a down economy. He wants us to be happy. As he does so, he lets it be known the things he would like us to do (as in your list); most feel doing so is our way of saying thanks.

    That’s how you play it.

  2. I’m not a journalist and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night but there is a study that was published in the International Journal of Communications entitled “The Revolutions Were Tweeted: Information Flows During the 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions”. I found a PDF of the study within a GIGAOM article: “News as a process: How journalism works in the age of Twitter” ~> http://gigaom.com/2011/12/21/news-as-a-process-how-journalism-works-in-the-age-of-twitter/

  3. I’m with you John – newspapers already have built-in focus groups they could use to figure out why fewer people are subscribing to the print product, why the website isn’t someone’s default home page, why Craigslist seems to be a better choice than your own classifieds. Although, I wonder if most papers are ready for truly candid answers to those questions. (Though maybe corporate cultures have changed since I left the biz, who knows?)

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  5. I think weekly pop quizzes are a good idea. If your monthly average drops below 75% it’s time to move on to a career you might actually be interested in.

    • Weekly pop quizzes? So I went to college and worked my hind end off just so I can be treated like a 12-year-old who may or may not have read last night’s assigned reading?

      Implement that and watch your best people leave before the seasons change.

      Also … default home pages? Wow. Are we back in 1996 using Netscape Navigator 2.01 all of a sudden? That’s the first function I turn off and I’ve been doing that at least since 1996. It’s the first answer to the question “What can I do to make my web browser load faster?”

      E-newsletters … um, wow. Maybe we are in 1996. Legacy product, beaten by and replaced by our Twitter feed.

      Finally, any grocery-store display that’s not tidy doesn’t reflect badly on the product therein. Instead, it reflects badly on the grocery store. If you’re seeing that regularly, maybe you should think about where you spend your grocery dollars.

  6. Perhaps if newspapers paid well enough for the reporters and others who produce the product to live in the circulation area, some of the questions would be less necessary. Also, in this era where there appears to be no loyalty between newspaper ownership and the rank-and-file employees, can you blame them?

    The vast majority of those who work for my hyper-local newspaper do not live in our circulation area. Therefore, most of the content is irrelevant to our lives.

    We’ve had so many rounds of layoffs that we KNOW the quality of content has declined. Thus, it’s very difficult to defend the paper against scathing remarks — whether they’re accurate or not.

    All I want is for everyone at my paper takes pride in his or her individual contributions to the whole product.

  7. I wonder if many newspaper employees don’t read the paper in part because they are not that engaged/involved/interested in their community. If you don’t care about the local property tax rate or outcome of the school board meeting, the only reason you’d be reading is to see what your colleagues are up to. So maybe that’s a byproduct of (to me, a misguided notion) that journalists should be separate from involvement in community affairs, and/or a byproduct of the demographics of the staff (just out of college reporters aren’t necessarily following school system, don’t own a home, etc.).

  8. If your employees don’t consume your product than you either have a bad product, bad employees or both. The industry will never recover until these types of employees are excised.

    If you own an ice cream shop it is not a good idea to employ people who don’t like ice cream. How many Apple employees use Windows and Droids?

    The challenge is a difficult one for existing newspaper types who don’t understand or fully accept that the web is a completely different medium than print. It is a as different as radio is to TV. Just because someone can perform in radio doesn’t mean they understand TV and vice versa.

    Newspapers have just assumed that since digital publishing is similar to print that it’s an easy transition. It’s not. Newspaper managers who are transitioning to a fully digital world must rid their newsrooms of any print reporter who has not educated themselves about the new world or resists. For example, if they refuse to carry a camera or shoot video, then that’s a red flag and they need to go. They don’t want to work in this medium. If a photographer only wants to shoot pictures like the old days and doesn’t want to take notes and write a story when he gets back to the newsroom, fire him.

    The same goes for the sales mangers and staff. If all they want to do is sell print ads, and not a wide array of digital services to clients, than they need to go too.

    The other question you did not research in your list is how many of your journalists or employees pay any attention or make it a point to patronize the businesses in your community that advertise with your paper and pay for your journalism?

    I have found journalists resent or are ignorant to the fact that the local Ford dealer is paying their salaries and providing them the opportunity to work in a newsroom.

  9. John: This is something you should have asked decades ago. This is not a new problem. Whether it be reporters, editors, photographers or whomever, many journalists just don’t perform what should be routine practices and duties.

    But what is a new problem is that editors and publishers across this country have shredded their newsroom staffs, reduced content in their newspapers by more than 50 percent and hired multimedia “editors” to replace them — yet still sit around asking: “Why are people no longer reading us???”

    And if you believe the digital world is going to solve your problems then I have a better flavor of Koolaid here: REALITY.

    Yes, despite five years of advertising declines, newspapers still account for more than 85 percent of most papers’ revenue.

    You want to put out a good product that people, including your staff, will pay for then sink some money into the product and get back to the basics.

    — 30 —

    • Thanks. I believe this has been asked for years. I just don’t believe it has been addressed effectively.

  10. Would you expect a waiter to know what is on the menu? Of course. Most reporters, especially, do not take ownership the paper they work for. They see themselves as independent writers, and the paper as the lucky winner of his/hers services.

  11. After seeing the comments here and on Romenesko’s Facebook page, I think there is confusion here between two separate issues:

    – Employee apathy toward or disengagement from the journalism you’re doing.

    – Institutional ignorance of the sea change in consumer behavior, including the consumers in your own building.

    I sent this post out to my newsroom staff in Connecticut, and got a lot of replies thinking I was scolding them for not being a print subscriber or buying newspaper classified ads (answer to both – they can’t afford it and web and Craig’s List are free). My point in sending, of course, was that we need to get over denial of disruption in these areas and trust our own instincts as consumers to guide a both-feet jump into “digital first.”

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