Getting past the inconvenience of newspapers

It’s been years but newspapers still haven’t grasped the inconvenience of their products. And inconvenience is killing them.

Consider:

* A longtime newspaper loyalist told me last week that she finally dropped her 7-day home-delivery subscription to Sunday only because she was in her car headed to work by the time the paper was tossed on her driveway. If it isn’t there when she needs it, it’s useless.

* Want a paper delivered? Get dressed and walk down the driveway in all kinds of weather to get it. This in a time when many people check their smart phones before they get out of bed. 

* Want home delivery only on Sunday and, say, Wednesday? You’ll be lucky if that option is available. It may be convenient to you, but it’s inconvenient to the paper.

* Some papers, like mine, promote their e-editions, which for a relatively cheap subscription price you can read the newspaper itself online. But it’s a clunky interface, requiring you to scroll up and down to see the entire page. Inconvenient. Not accessible on iPad either.

* Some newspaper websites are good. More often, though, they aren’t. It’s hard to find what you want. Design is cluttered. Ads come unbidden onto the screen, and, like a pesky mosquito buzzing around the room, it’s hard to get rid of them. Search is bad. Some content is walled off. Inconvenient.

* On Thursday, I went looking for stories about the U.S. Women’s soccer team because I wanted to read and see photos of its gold medal victory over Japan. I went to the Washington Post, the New York Times and ESPN, and I was struck by what an inconvenience that was. Each site gave me stories by their reporters only. I wanted more than that. I wanted a curated collection of content from everywhere. (C’mon Project Thunderdome!) Finally, I went to Google News, but even there I seemed to keep pulling up the same AP story.

* Don’t get me started on mobile.

I love newspapers and can’t imagine not getting one every morning, though I know that day is coming. That’s OK because I love journalism even more, and I hate to miss good journalism because of obstacles put in my way. I know well that there are sound business, financial, cultural and historical reasons why these obstacles exist. The problem is that customers don’t care about any of them. They want ease of use and service.

There is a solution.

I hate to stand in line for anything, but I do it when the payoff is worth it. If you assume that news organizations can’t or won’t eliminate the inconveniences, the only way to save themselves is to make the payoff worth it. The content must be so compelling that I will tolerate hassles because I know that there is gold at the end of the rainbow.

This is so much easier said than done. If it were easy, every day papers would be full of interesting enterprise, hard-hitting investigations, surprises, local analysis, depth, news about my neighbors (my neighbors, not someone who lives in this city of 300,000.) Or perhaps it’s not breadth but it’s a clearly designated focus, in the way that I know what I’m going to get if I go to Politico or watch FoxNews. (Poynter has a good piece about “the continental content divide.)

Mass is dead. Personalized is alive. Make it so easy and seamless to get the news I want OR provide news and information that is so relevant and necessary to my life that I’ll trample the crowd to get it. I know journalists want to do that the latter. Let them loose.

6 thoughts on “Getting past the inconvenience of newspapers

  1. John, really interesting post. It strikes me that this type of coverage (of Paul Ryan becoming Mitt Romney’s VP candidate) — http://www.ydr.com/politics/ci_21289016/local-national-reaction-romneys-choice-rep-paul-ryan — can be at least one answer to one of the problems you brought up: Your quest for curated news on a big event. I agree with you that it can be frustrating to try to find a good cross-section of information on a single website, and that’s what I’ve been trying to keep in mind while curating reaction, links, tweets and more using ScribbleLive.
    Thoughts, critique, etc. are welcomed.

    • I’ve had a NYT subscription for my Kindle since early 2008. At first, it was 12.99, I think. Right now, for those with older scbiuriptsons, the price is 15.99. It is supposed to go up to 19.99 in the Spring. I believe that, currently, a week-end only, delivered-to-my-door print subscription would cost me $12.00/week-end (48.00/month). That makes my 7-day/week Kindle subscription a real bargain.Paying for a K subscription that appears like magic every morning in my Kindle, ready to read before I even get out of bed, one that I can carry anywhere in my pocket is one thing. If I didn’t have a K, I doubt I would be willing to pay for a sit-in-front-of the-computer-only subscription. I would probably just get my news elsewhere. As long as there are multiple on-line, (and free), sources for the same information, why pay NYT for it? That being said, I imagine that Rupert and his cronies will have all of us paying for on-line news sooner or later. I’m just hoping that later is a long time coming.

  2. This is crazy talk. News media are in a death spiral or in the midst of a bloody revolution with lots of casualties – take your pick of metaphors. And this is the moment when you want to see them start doing great things? I don’t see how. It’s not news organizations that are going to solve your problem, it’s some new or existing social media. Either that, or we will enter an information dark ages. I’m a pessimist, so I know where I’m putting my money.

  3. My carrier brings my paper (usually) before 5 a.m. My house is at the front of his route. The end of his route is around 6:30. If I were at the end of his route, or even the middle, I would cancel. After 6, I have no time to read. My hours may not be normal, but I doubt the overall window of time I have for reading is odd; if anything, it’s probably large. That is why I am destined to cancel the paper. One day I will change jobs, or I will get a new carrier who wants a different routine, or something. Time is not on the newspaper’s side.

  4. Pingback: Blueblood.ie – Beyond Print: From Newspapers To News Media

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