In this era in which we all anticipate living to, say, ninety-five years of age, an institution that has a readership that averages someplace in the forties or fifties could well have thirty to forty more years of loyalty to tap. A desperate rush to get teen and young readers now is unlikely to change anything. In my lifetime, I have not found more than a handful of people who read the newspaper regularly as teenagers. Not in any generation.
Of course, the younger generation will age. (OMG! No!) It may well mature into newspaper readership, or at least a part of it. This doesn’t warm the hearts of investment counselors, but then it doesn’t have to if you are no longer publicly held.
Meanwhile, you must demand that all of your customers be treated with respect, including people over fifty. People should not be viewed as declining assets. They are living customers, voting every day with their purchase of the paper. It is an important demographic. This number is easier to understand once you realize that the biggest magazine in America is the one produced by the AARP, the advocacy group for people over fifty, which has a circulation of 24.4 million.
Granted, newspaper circulation numbers have been falling for years, but there are decades left of potential business for print products. Writing print readers off now would be foolish. They are also your most solid revenue producers.
Newspaper readers tend to be traditional. They expect a complete package. Opening an array of foreign bureaus would be prohibitively expensive. Presenting creatively collected foreign news, from carefully selected stringers, wire services, and other publications would be efficient. The important part of the formula would involve thought, which gets back to the people who will report to you. No one should present an argument that readers who want something more complete should turn elsewhere. Don’t give people reasons to leave!
The ‘It’ Media in Chicago
The tension remains palpable in journalism between those who want the future to be electronic and those who want it to be the way it has been for a long time. The debates are about nothing more complicated than how to present the news product. I have run operations on both sides of this divide. I found that the ethics and values involved in collecting information don’t change for journalists. They are looking for the truth. The product they collect just moves to the public through a different set of filters and a different set of skills. But that does not change the truth. These entities are not in competition with one another. They live in symbiosis. You need to get everyone on board with that thought.
You also need to embrace that the challenge you face is today, not a year from now, not ten years from now, not in some perfect digital future. If your business is news, and everyone agrees it is news, then how it moves to the public really doesn’t matter. What matters are how good it is, how broad it is, how aggressive it is, and how complete it is.
I believe there is great fortune and opportunity in news, and most of it is local, but not “local” in the way news companies have traditionally viewed local news.