Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wake Up, Snooze-Papers!

The hero of the day is a newspaper editor who says that most of our local rags lack the vision and guts to keep themselves relevant to readers. Click over to the CJR Daily version of the Columbia Journalism Review for the interview with Scott Goldman, assistant managing editor of visuals at the Indianapolis Star.

He is also president of the Society for News Design. Based in Syracuse, SND gives out annual awards for newspaper and magazine design. They stress integrating content and design. Images of the best newspapers are here. A searchable database is here; note that the most recent winner images won't be up for a month.

Goldman seems to have little patience with the chant that newspapers are victims. That is, they are in hard times because folk get their news from TV and the Net, and the just don't read much. Balderdash, he might have said. Instead, he puts it:
Most American papers are cutting at all costs and then sitting back and wondering why advertisers and the readers aren't coming. There is not yet even one leading newspaper chain willing to say that if we put our resources into building a better newspaper, making something that you can't miss, that is irreplaceable every day, then the readers will come and the advertisers will come. There's no doubt though that in these economic times, it takes guts and it takes someone really stepping forward to be a leader. Unfortunately, that's not happening in this country right now. You're seeing it abroad and even then, only in smaller papers. They truly know their audience. If you can identify that, you can really own something.
I just love it when putative experts concur with my opinions, here for example. The Globe is certainly not the only paper seemingly intent on putting itself in a death spiral. Sure, the board of the NYT and other publicly owned media groups want the highest profits they can get. They are capitalists and may have DUTY TO SHAREHOLDERS etched into their minds if not tattooed on their tushes.

Maybe the current boards of these corporations need to get into different industries, ones simple enough and with high enough returns for them to understand. Various businesses traditionally have high margins -- think software or crack dealing -- and others make it up on volume -- think supermarkets with a 5% or less margin.

There are many non-U.S. winners in the SND contests, an increasing trend. Goldman says:
For the last few years, we've seen that the true innovation in newspaper design is happening outside this country. You see a different attitude toward newspapering in other parts in the world. And I think that must have to do with them not dealing with the bottom line issue as much as American newspapers are.
He implies that giving the reader a reason to subscribe lives in the realm of creativity and clear thinking, of usability and insight. Those are traits we used to brag about and ones likely within our power to achieve -- for those that have the will.

Papers of various sizes in Spain, Estonia and elsewhere manage to get and do it.

Rather than blame everything from cable TV to declining education standards to unions, the NYT/Globe should be humiliated by the failure to remain vital to millions of potential readers and thousands of potential advertisers. As my late mother was fond of saying, "Show some gumption!"

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1 comment:

Uncle said...

Yep Yep. Granted the model of the free subway papers is a trifle thin, but it damn well proves that if you show some imagination and fill a niche, you get readers, of just about any age.