Newspapers – online as well as in print – look too much
toward television as their savior. Many papers today embrace technology instead
of story, catering to the national short-attention pandemic through videos,
flashy graphics and slide shows. Newspapers are in a sprint when they should be
running a marathon, a race in which endurance and fortitude are most valued.
Yes, newspapers need to change – but they need to stop
remaking themselves in television’s image. Instead, they should look at magazines
and the community weekly as their role models.
Magazines typically cater to smaller but enthusiastic or
dedicated audiences (the national news weeklies, which have their own problems,
are catering to smaller audiences than they would like.) Weeklies – the ones
that are still independent, not those that are part of bigger chains – have
reporters on the ground. They know the community, live in the community and are
part of the community. They cover the news you can’t get online or in your
Interactivity, social tools and multimedia are now staples
at most major papers. And they should be – moreover, the lessons of online
engagement and influence of a media created by the masses, rather than a
media created for the masses, must permeate today’s newsrooms and course
through journalism’s 21st Century veins.
But while these advances are essential to the industry’s
survival, there is more to flying above the clouds than putting on new wings.
Remember what happened to Icarus when he ignored his father and flew too close
to the sun.
Newspapers need to fight the battles they can win. This
means getting niche and local, like magazines and weeklies. It means letting
your online product be the “AM” edition, with the latest breaking news, and
letting your print version be the “PM” edition, with the context, analysis and
opinion readers can’t get anywhere else. And it means getting back to telling
stories that matter, stories that engage and involve audiences.
In today’s age of the ever-shrinking news hole, words are a
precious commodity. Newspapers need to make every word count.