The question from one of Andy Bechtel‘s students in his Advanced Editing class at UNC stopped me.
“Are there any newspapers that have improved in the past 10 years?”
It’s a question that should be posed to newspaper managers across the country. I doubt many would honestly answer that their newspaper is better today than in 2002 or even 2007. Years of layoffs and page reduction have taken such a toll that only a few papers might venture to say they have improved.
It would take some courage — and I believe newspaper managers have courage — to ask their readers the same question. Yet, some newspapers don’t tell their readers of layoffs. Many that do are accompanied by a statement such as this one: “We will maintain and over time enhance the quality of our newspaper.”
On Planet Earth, the fact is that newspapers aren’t better. Their websites may be. Their newsrooms are certainly more focused on delivering the news that readers want. But with reduced staff and less space, they simply can’t provide the news coverage, the delivery range or the customer service they used to.
So, now what?
First, when you’re in a hole, stop digging. Forget about 10 years ago. Determine the new normal. Decide what size staff you’re going to have and stick with it for longer than the next quarterly report. The readers you have now have stayed with you through the hard times. They aren’t going to leave you. Move forward from now. If you stop changing it and cutting it, readers will get used to it and appreciate it for what it is.
Second, make the smart play — invest in digital. That’s where the people are. If you want them to see you, you have to be where they are. Then you have to have content that they want to see. Every local audience is different so you’ll have to figure that out, but I don’t think they want to see the content that is in the morning paper. They want new stuff created for them…and the web or their phone. You have to be smart, web-centric, quick-moving and open to change. You need a voice. And you need a good CMS.
Third, don’t “fix it,” slap your hands together and think, “well, that’s done.” This is your future. The UNC student’s question should haunt you. Ask yourself and your fellow newsroom managers this: “What have we done to improve our digital report in the last 10 days?”
The Dow Jones is near 13,000. Take some of those profits and funnel them into the digital operation. You won’t regret it.