Vague truisms will save newspapers

In the ticker-tape feed of newspapers-are-dying commentary we’re seeing on the Net — which basically constitutes standing on top of an elevator as it’s going down and continually prophesizing, “Look! It’s going down” as if it’s anything more than stating the obvious — one of the most eye-roll-inducing trends that I’ve seen is the tendency to spout vague, substanceless truisms about how this new media world fundamentally changes the way we consume news. Here, I’ll make one up on the spot:

Newspapers used to be about delivering news but now they’re about delivering information.

See what I did there? I gave two statements that aren’t even mutually exclusive, but shit, it sounds deep, doesn’t it? Internet evangelist Jeff Jarvis thrives on these wannabe contestants for Poor Richard’s Almanac, so it’s not surprising that he linked to a blog post full of them:

Old way of thinking

The newspaper was a product.

New way

News organizations provide a service.

Old way of thinking

Readers became known as “the audience” in the early days of the Internet, describing a one-way relationship wherein readers sat still to observe a performance.

New way

Readers/users are participatory.

Old way of thinking

Newspapers attempted to be all things to all people, serving a mass geographic audience.

New way

News organizations strive to serve a mass of niche communities that already exist, (some geographic, but most based on interests.)

Old way of thinking

Newspapers marketed themselves to a population.

New way

News organizations converse, engage and collaborate with the communities they serve; the population markets the news organization among itself.

Old way of thinking

Newspapers operated in a climate of “scarcity;” news space became tighter when ad sales diminished or the price of newsprint increased.

Somebody needs to get this blogger a job writing dialog for the Oracle in the next Matrix sequel.

4 Comments

  1. Brent Finnegan Says:

    Agreed. It is getting to be overkill (and more than a little obvious).

    However, when you live in a one-newspaper town like I do, it still has value. It’s the sort of thing I wish I could get the editors to read and adopt. The local paper here has recently blocked their reporters from social media site access and refuses to step into the 21st Century.

  2. Jared O'Toole Says:

    Newspapers used to be about delivering news but now they’re about delivering information. So true. Now our news comes via real time on the social web. Newspapers need to deepen these stories and reveal the in-depth content for people.

  3. Rowan Says:

    I have to agree with Jared. I get really tired of articles which have no actual details. I love a juicy indepth well researched article that is published over multiple days.

    Snippets, i.e. headline news, just doesn’t cut it.

    Something else I have noticed is that those newspapers which have an online presence tend to use copy/paste from article to article. It doesn’t matter if it is an original article or one sourced from the wires.

  4. Nick Salzmann Says:

    Sherwood Anderson, who wrote Winesburg Ohio, published a small-town newspaper later in his career (I believe he had retired from fiction at the time) and focused the editorial on local community events at a time that a lot of large city newspapers were nationalizing. He found a lot of success in the local niche. I believe he even made up a number of stories, but people loved it.

    I don’t think what we’re seeing now in the “digital age” is anything different. If you open up a paper newspaper today you’ll probably find most of the articles aren’t even original but were lifted from the Associated Press. Online it’s worse: everyone is trying to imitate television news by offering videos that barely skim the surface of the story and which are chock full of ads. If newspapers want to survive, they’ll need to get back to their local roots.


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