Monday, November 16, 2009

Got swagger?

I love the Gannett Company, which owns a host of large newspapers and numerous small ones including in Ohio the Cincinnati Enquirer, Coshocton Tribune, Newark Advocate and others. It also owns WKYC-TV in Cleveland.
And, like other media companies, it has slashed reporters and editors from its payroll over the last 18 or so months.
I love Gannett because over the years it always seemed to have a solution for all the ills that beset the industry. A half-dozen years ago or so it laid out a rather lengthy initiative, telling its newspapers how to attract young readers.
From that initiative, I believe, the roots for “numbers to know,” bullets lists, multiple Page 1 headlines and so on were planted. You know, we needed to dumb down the newspaper for the youngsters.
Breaking news: It didn’t work.
According to Editor & Publisher, the newspaper industry trade publication that is widely read by publishers and editors, Gannett’s editors are being urged “to improve watchdog journalism, reposition web sites for breaking news and better engage young readers and Sunday readers.”
Kate Marymont, vice president/news for Gannett’s community publishing division, issued what she called “content priorities.”
(“Content” is what executive types call “news” these days in case you’re wondering.)
Marymont also suggested that Gannett papers “get their swagger back.”
A few months ago, most Gannett editors and reporters presumably were shaking at their computer terminals as the company whacked jobs left and right. What happens in a situation like that is that editors and reporters lose any swagger they had and realize that they should have picked a different career path.
The last thing on their minds is righting wrongs and tweaking power. They’re worried about whether they can pay their rent and college loans next month. Believe me.
Community journalism should be at least halfway satisfying for those who engage in it – hell, they’re not making a lot of money -- and one gets the satisfaction from engaging the community by writing and producing stories (and editorials) that matter.
Of course you can do that a lot better if you have job security.
Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post from 1968 to 1991 was asked a couple of years ago what newspapers needed to do to attract readers.
“What newspapers need,” he said, “are some damn good stories.”
Sometimes we overthink things. I think Bradlee’s simple directive is the one Gannett and all the other newspaper companies ought to follow.
To hell with content. We need some damn good stories.


Anonymous said...

Good stories, yep. I imagine Frog and Toad are Friends doesn't qualify. Young people don't read anymore...unless it is restricted to 140 characters or less. I'm telling ya, Dick. If you can convince these kids to get rid of their televisions they might start reading again. I haven't watched TV in 25 years...I read. And then read more.

RockHammer said...

The list of critical issues facing the newspaper is long. However, I don't feel that content or lack of "damn good stories" are at the top of that list.

How people choose to get the news they want is the issue. Unfortunately for the newspaper issues, people are not choosing them.

ask_the_director said...

I wish more newspapers did what the Wall Street Journel did - and charge fairly for an online subscription of the newspaper's entire content - not just stuff to try and get someone to purchase a copy of a printed newspaper.

Do you see any future in that for small town papers?

I'm afraid that I'll never go back to print - but get almost all of my news from electronic media.

That doesn't diminish my desire to see good, local reporting, it just means that I want a vehicle different than what Gutenberg invented in nearly 560 years ago.

Anonymous said...

The more streamlined the communications pipeline becomes, the more "Good Stories" will be overlooked or not seen at all.

If you have the ability to read only articles slanted your direction or to not read those that challenge your views because you like someone preaching to you while you sit in the choir, then that streamlined communication will not only help to feed your content, but to divest your interest or ability to see anything that lays challenge to your view. Polarization will become more pronounced as one-directional spin will become more and more accepted by the choir with little or no resistance.

As much as Technology has "united" us. It will also help to take us further apart.