Newspapering has changed, but major dailies stagnate

By John Toth
Bulletin Publisher

I hate to admit this, but last week I canceled a newspaper subscription. Me, a newspaper guy, canceled a subscription. I feel so guilty, but I still canceled it.

After working on a paper all week, the last thing I want to do it pick up a daily and read it. I can get it all online, anyway, and the print version is usually a day behind.

That’s the problem with daily papers. They have not found a way to keep up with the lifestyle of the ordinary Joe, who is now more likely to get his information from cable news and the web than by waiting for it to be printed in a daily newspaper.

Weeklies tend to sidestep this because they know their place – staying with the feature, gee-whiz content that is still fresh when it is printed. They know not to compete against an electronic media that has a week’s head start.

They operate on a different turf, a turf that dailies have yet to exploit. A daily paper’s job now is to regurgitate the news from the day before. They are still stuck in the city council mode. That’s important and has to be covered, but most people could care less. Maybe that’s wrong, but that’s the way it is.

So, to entice them to at least glance at the city council headline and surrounding ads, the reader has to be brought to the page. That’s where the columns and human interest stories come in. That’s what sells papers and ads, and that’s what makes readers pay for subscriptions.

For the most part, big papers have no clue how to legitimately make news more consumable. All they are doing is cutting back and laying off talented writers who could bring them into this new arena. The more writers and editors they cut, the less of a chance that this interesting content that I am talking about is going to be churned out on a daily basis.

So, it’s one boring story after another, and after a few pages, who cares anymore?

And if any big paper editors read this column, which is highly unlikely, they’ll just shrug it off as a bunch of bull appearing in a small weekly. Then they’ll go back to editing and assigning stories that interests maybe a half dozen readers.

And they’ll continue crying about further staff reductions, which then will create even a more boring product.

My concept is not new. I didn’t just make it up. I learned it while working at a daily where to get any space we had to come up with some pretty unusual general interest stories. Most of us in our department did it on a regular basis. Some of the topics were important, some were lemonade with a nice twist for Page 1. The department was cut a long time ago. I left even earlier.

I like that type of journalism, the “gee-whiz I can’t believe that” type of writing. It’s the writing that can save dailies from themselves.

So, all you writers, take control of your own future and find as many funny, warm, unusual and gee-whiz stories as you can.

Readers will then pick up the paper and buy subscriptions because they want to read your stuff. Then the paper sells more ads, and you get to keep your job, perhaps even get a raise.

Plus, you make a name for yourself, which will further sooth your already big ego. No insult intended. That’s part of a good writer’s tools of the trade. Excluding me, of course, I don’t have one – ego, that is.