Newspapers Can Win by Being Last

My boss, who given the nature of our work is a savvy digital
guy, noted via Facebook how the news about Gen. Colin Powell’s endorsement of
Sen. Barack Obama for President broke first on Twitter, before the Washington
Post, New York Times or Wall Street Journal. This is interesting as a piece of
trivia, but what it says about the psyche of the American news consumer is far
more powerful.

It says that the past decade or so of 24-hour news,
infotainment, halfwit commentators and Internet-born drivel has taught us
nothing.

It means that we still celebrate speed over substance,
accolades over accuracy, and timing over truth. It means that winning is only
about being first and not about being right. It says that getting out of the
starting blocks first matters more than finishing the race.

I know this isn’t true for everyone, but it’s true for many
and that is troubling enough.

Newspapers aren’t dying solely because of an outdated
business model or modern means of distribution – they are dying because things
without speed are viewed as having little to no value in a 21st
Century world.

The Los Angeles Times, my hometown paper, is getting thinner
not for lack of advertising but for lack of news. A redesign to make stories and
sections easier to find via call-outs and color coding hasn’t changed the fact
that there is less relevance to the stories for people who already got that
morning’s headlines via Google or iPhone.

Newspapers – and I’m talking specifically about the print
product – need to stop chasing television and the Internet. We get plenty of
news fast, but what we need is a place to slow down and digest.

Let the Web side of the house be more about the “what” and
the newspaper side more about the “so what.” Give us analysis and
investigation, and use the paper’s web site to fill in the gaps between
editions and keep us on top of the breaking stories. And bring back the
afternoon newspaper – the news will be timelier and the analysis more welcome
at the end of the day when we’ve had our fill of RSS feeds.

If newspapers want to win, they need to finish last.

Hmm, that sentence is short enough to tweet. But I’m sure
someone has already beaten me to it.

This entry was posted in journalism, News Media. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Newspapers Can Win by Being Last

  1. I’m inclined to agree re “speed over substance” yet even as a former WSJ reporter I can’t help but think that the speed of bloggers/twitterers etc. sometimes lights a fire under us traditional journalists.
    Finding the right blend of the two approaches is still a struggle for our bosses…. and since I am my boss now I know how schizy that can be.
    – another fan of your thoughtful blog

  2. james says:

    i hope that whomever buys my paper thinks like you. You wouldn’t want to buy a scrappy major urban tabloid, would you?

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