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Can Anything Save the Newspaper Industry?

Is it worth saving?

You’d have to to be living in a cave not to be aware of the rapid decline of the newspaper industry in the US. Actually…it’s happening everywhere.

There’s an article on Tech Crunch that’ll give you an idea of how rapid that decline has become, in terms of the havoc it’s reeking on advertising revenues: $7.5 billion last year. OUCH.

Of course, the interweb is being blamed, the argument being that big bad Google is allowing the public to access newspaper content for free, so that now no-one wants to buy the newspaper. CORRECT. And also WRONG. Newspaper-type-folks please allow me to weigh in:

First of all, the access provided by search engines is a killer opportunity, not your worst enemy. The fact that sites like Huffington Post are thriving proves the point that you are missing entirely: People want information. Period. And information cannot be owned by you. True you might be generating some of it (and all credit MUST be given to the researchers, writers, etc for their hard work), but we the people now feel that collaborative content is where it’s at, and you can throw your hat into the ring or get out of the way. Tools that allow commentary, ways to share content and add video content are swell. Do that.

I’m not going to create a new business model for you, but if you let go of your age-old ideas about newspapers you might find some interesting ways to capitalize on the WAY in which people now consume news content. UK newspaper, The Guardian, has certainly taken a new approach: publishing exclusively via twitter. And they’re smart…they’re using twitter as a listening tool as well.

Secondly, newspapers are ugly. If you don’t think that matters to the public, then you need to go ahead and watch this:

Pretty will not give you a hall pass… content is crucial. But design can make a difference.

I’m not advocating that newspapers should be saved…quite honestly I’m not sure that they should. I’d love to hear some good pro-newspaper arguments. The refusal of older generations to adapt to new technology is not a good reason by the way…If you can adapt to highways and embrace medical innovation that extends your life, then I think it’s a choice you make.

I’m also not necessarily anti-newspaper, though I tend to lean that way for a few reasons.

How about this, I’ll list my reasons (design aside) and let’s hear some good solutions to these problems:

Easy ones first-
1. Trees being cut down…a few obvious fixes here.
2. Toxic ink. Again an easy fix (though probably expensive).

Now the harder ones –
3. I don’t want to pay for the news. Sorry, it’s true.
4. I want access to information at all times, at a moment’s notice. I’d rather not have to hunt down a copy of the paper when I’ve got a number of gadgets on my person at all times that I use to connect with the outside world.
5. I want you to cover broader topics, and be unbiased.
6. I don’t want to have to figure out what to do with old papers – I’m definitely not keeping them. Recycle?(last resort) Compost? (I worry about the ink and I can only use so much) Birdcage? (I don’t want a bird). Can they be designed with a specific second life in mind? (Perhaps I can eat them…not saying that’s perfect…but I’m brainstorming here, so don’t judge me).
7. Old news is old news. By the time I get the paper, more stuff has happened.
8. I want you to listen to me.
9. I don’t trust the establishment, and at this point you’re definitely in that category.
10. I don’t want to alert thieves that I’m away with the pile of papers on my porch.

Perhaps a bit of crowd-sourcing it just what the newspaper industry needs. Thoughts?

Susan Isaacs

Susan’s a multitask-er who prides herself on the vast number of things (read: loose papers and coffee cups) on her desk at any one time, and yet she still manages to keep an eye on all the moving parts at Paragon.


5 thoughts on “Can Anything Save the Newspaper Industry?

  1. You know… I’m sitting here trying to think of a pro for news papers and I can only think of two: they make for great wrapping paper (especially when finished off with a colorful bow) and excellent for streak-free window/mirror cleaning (way better than paper towels).

  2. davena says:

    great piece. well frankly, all my life here in savannah, the paper was only good for one thing. As a table cover for some good ole hot and spicey blue crabs from nancy’s or Bo-Bo’s over on montgomery st. What? Don’t laugh, I’m as serious as a heart attack.

  3. Susan Isaacs says:

    Who’s laughing?! That sounds like a useful option!

  4. Burton says:

    I have two ideas. They cover two ends of the spectrum:

    1/ a daily free or almost free pick-up ad-funded paper. Delivery for a fee. It’s be like the weekly pickup rags (connect savannah, Bay Guardian, Creative Loafing).
    It’d be out of date by sunrise, too small for weekly calendars. Multiple micro print runs. Ads can be geographically based.

    2/ a nearly-never out of date paper with drill-down of current local topics. Think 90 day shelf life. No ads for children’s bunkbeds, match ads with content. The editing and publishing could involve discourse of opposing views or first person accounts. Rely on user-generated content. The bulk of the work would be making decisions on context-relevant ads, printing and distribution.
    … Hmm. Isn’t this saying, print out a website with Google ads and read it offline?

    Let breaking news be handled by existing outlets. Newspapers as flyers? Imagine a kid in knickers shouting on the street corner,” Extra extra read all about it” with a few paragraphs of info, teasing a reader onto a (mobile capable) URL.

    Ask me anything, I have all the answers. Right ones, wrong ones, wild ones, contradicting ones!

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