Thursday, October 11, 2012

Is the tide starting to turn?

There are a couple of items of good news floating around. First, we have the decision by the Orange County Register to invest more in local news coverage. Although Orange County is a populous county in the megalopolis known as Southern California, the Register is deciding to act as though it were a small-town newspaper, hiring reporters and photographers to cover all its high school football games. It is also hiring investigative journalists. I found this observation from editor Ken Brusic particularly apt:
“Think about a Starbucks model. If each day you went into Starbucks and plunked down $4 for a latte, and the cups got smaller and the content got weaker, chances are you’d stop going to Starbucks. That’s basically what newspapers have been doing as a way to deal with decreases in advertising revenue. The new guys are attempting to reverse that trend, and are attempting in a variety of different ways.”

I love the comparison. If advertisers are going to continue to abandon newspapers, and readers are going to have to pay for it, newspapers need to become a status symbol, like gourmet coffee, but a relatively affordable one, like a $4 latte.

The next bit of good news comes from the research firm Borrell and Associates, that forecasts revenue growth for newspapers in 2013.  Though Newspaper Death Watch gives us reasons to doubt the assessment, I think optimism is half the battle. If people see newspapers as a losing proposition, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and our companies become fodder for the modern day equivalents of Bain Capital. In the anecdotal evidence department, I am starting to see the frequency of help wanted ads for copy editors increase.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why do newspapers need opinion pages?

As ad revenues fall, news holes are getting markedly smaller. At the newspaper at which I work, we are dealing with an effective news hole of 3 or 4 pages out of 18 or 20 on any given day. I understand the need to save on newsprint. But there is also the need to cut content that is unnecessary. So I ask, how many people buy the newspaper for the opinion page? There are 129 inches of news print that would be best reposition for what we do best, write copy on local news, and ditch what people can get elsewhere, read syndicated opinion pieces and editorial cartoons.
In most newspapers, the letter to the editor is a marked anachronism. Who bothers writing a letter, when they can comment on the story directly online? I'll tell you who. People without computers (old folks) and yahoos whose opinions make us cringe.
To ditch the opinion page would be a relief to most newspaper editors. And we'd have one more page to put news on (or for the publisher to reduce, when the ad count allows us to go to 16 pages)