There I’ve said it! I am officially a heretic. I teach journalism, but I don’t read a newspaper. And I doubt that most people reading this blog or others do either. I was thinking about this today. Do those of us over 30, wake up some days and think we still live in the 20th Century. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like much has changed, but it has, especially in the news business.
I don’t read the paper, but I read dozens of news sites on the Internet each day. Between my RSS reader and my Twitter feed, I read lots of publications nearly every day. But they just aren’t the same ones.
This is why I am virulently opposed to news sites charging for content. It is not that I’m against them making money. I know they need a revenue stream to survive, but I know that if I was forced to pay for every news site I visited, even a tiny micro-payment, then I would stop reading so much online.
But do not be mistaken into thinking this would push me back into the arms and loving embrace of my local newspaper. It wouldn’t. I would lose that content forever. I doubt I could possibly afford to pay for the incredible number of sources of news that I can find online.
In addition to news sites, I visit and view many other kinds of web sites daily. Some via RSS, others through Twitter or another social site via recommendation. This kind of infotainment also reduces the amount of time that I spend reading a printed product.
It doesn’t mean I’m reading less. In fact, I’m reading a whole lot more these days. It’s just that most of my reading is done on a computer screen. It also means that I consume a lot more self-selected content – not just what a newspaper editor thought was important. I imagine that this is a big part of what is killing newspapers.
The economy and ad sales are bad, but the attention deficit is worse. I was an avid newspaper reader from high school until recently. But as more and more high quality content is available online, I find less and less time for a broad market publication like a newspaper. And when I do want something that only my local paper can provide, I am frustrated that it is not put online quickly and in an easily managed format.
This is what is killing newspapers. They need to focus on giving me that one thing they can do well – local coverage. Get the high school football scores quickly and accurately, Twitter the school board meetings, make your content search-able and deep. Give me a way to find my polling place on voting day (with a map and directions too). Give me tools that let me find the local library or the DMV. Link out to stuff that’s not local, partner with USA Today, New York Times, etc. Give me local, quickly, accurately and with some depth and do it online. That might, just might save your newspaper long enough to become a news site that I would actually put in my RSS reader.
I may be a heretic, but I still believe in the power of journalism. I just don’t believe in newspapers as a delivery model anymore. That was the 20th Century, we don’t live there anymore.