How I spend my time:
* Work — I teach, which requires a great deal of research for preparation and grading immersion.
* Sleep — Not as much as I’d like or as much as doctors recommend, but still it makes up 25% of my days.
* Eat — Mostly at home, but with regular restaurant visits.
* Relationships — Being with my wife, my children, my friends, my students.
* Home ownership — The typical upkeep plus we’re renovating so painting, etc.
* Leisure – I run in the mornings. I read books. I wander around Facebook, Twitter and the Internet. I watch some TV.
Now, let’s compare how much of that is reflected in my daily newspaper:
* Work — No.
* Sleep — No.
* Eat — On Wednesdays and Sundays there are recipes and restaurant news.
* Relationships — Not much.
* Home ownership — Not much.
* Leisure — Eddie Wooten has a great running blog. A book page runs every other week, but its reviews are parochial. Internet coverage? Not much. TV? Not much. The TV book has been restored, but I’ve never used it.
My newspaper isn’t alone in not reflecting how I live. It is typical of most people and their papers. And it’s not restricted to newspapers; TV news has the same news diet, and it’s not in touch with mine.
Is the disconnect between how I live and what the news covers unusual? I don’t know. When I had kids in public schools, I was interested in school news and high school sports. I’m not any more. My children didn’t go to the colleges in the area so, other than a general civic interest, what happens at UNCG or A&T or Guilford, Bennett or Greensboro doesn’t interest me much.
But imagine this: What would happen if the newspaper or TV station compared their typical content with the day-to-day interests and activities of their readers/viewers? And what if they took those results and changed the way they report the news? Would that make their products more relevant to the people they aim to serve? (Steve Buttry and Elaine Chisham point out that the Pocono Record did this very thing several years ago. It is documented in the Newspaper Next project report, page 60.)
I think news execs would be stunned and, I hope, motivated to rethink how they approach the news.
I asked my Facebook friends what topic area they would like to see covered in the news. I asked at 5:30 Saturday afternoon, traditionally a slow time on my newsfeed. It is currently at 40 comments. Not surprising — to me, at least — the biggest voter-getter is investigative reporting. Sound familiar? (Coincidentally, Sunday was a good day around N.C. for that kind of reporting.)
Don’t get me wrong.Traditional news coverage is important. I want to know about the important crimes in the area, and how city hall and school board decisions might affect the community. But many news organizations have focused on the core traditional coverage areas — local government, cops and crime — as they’ve responded to cut backs in staffing. And the meetings and run-of-the-mill criminal justice reports aren’t truly the most relevant to the most people.
You’re covering too many things that only a few people actually care about on a day-to-day basis.
Most news organizations know that tough decisions must be made. Most also know that they must embrace innovation and take risks. Revamping your beat structure from the way it’s been done for 50 years to the things that people truly care about is risky. But damn, it’s getting late.
My friend Matt DeRienzo of Digital First is pioneer and leader in journalistic change. On that Facebook post, he describes how it feels to be between a rock and a hard place. “We recently established a full-time poverty beat. We are also going to be dedicating more resources to commodity breaking news, though, because competition with TV station web efforts is killing us.”
For me, you have to decide your niche in the market for print and digital. I suggested for print that it should be investigative reporting and good news. For digital, it’s something else because traffic is so important. (Provocative politics would be one on my envisioned site because that is important and it gets traffic, as opposed to crime news, which gets traffic but is rarely important.)
Mass is dead or dying. News orgs can’t do everything.
But consider this: Nate Silver created a movement with his data anaylsis at the N.Y Times. Brian Stelter did something similar with his media coverage. Both carved a niche by doing something different. Local journalists can do the same thing if they are given the opportunity.
From that Newspaper Next report: “The biggest lesson we have learned is that paradigms can change. We’ve always heard. ‘We don’t have enough resources to do what we’ve always done. There are high-value and lower-value areas. Utilizing information from jobs to be done, you can focus on the higher-value areas, and deliver information on topics that your readers really care about.”