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.


* 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.