Jim Waterbury, a long-time friend and media guru, sent me news about the demise of daily newspapers in Louisiana and Alabama. I learned of this news not from a newspaper, but from an electronic source—how appropriate.
Why are newspapers fading? They are not listening to their customers. The terminal diagnosis is not because of the Internet, but because you don’t hear newspapers saying that they will deliver the kind of news local people really want to read.
If I ran a newspaper, here is what I would do today:
- Drop national news. I get that on Twitter and Yahoo!
- Never run a story from outside the area. I’d rather run the worst local press release than a story from two states away. Local leads.
- More photos. I’d cut ALL story copy in half.
- More photos of regular people on the street.
- No story jumps. If you can’t read it on the page it starts, cut it down.
- Drop stocks or numbers of any kind—unless it is in a cool infographic. That is stuff perfect for the Internet; get it out of the newspaper.
- No syndicated material. Drop Ann Landers, Hints from Heloise and opinion-page columnists. Go get the local citizen journalists and fill a paper.
- Work deals for exclusive coverage and trademark it so it can’t be shared except by you.
- I wouldn’t put my local news online. I know that sounds counter to all I’ve said, but it doesn’t pay. Make it so people must subscribe and read your paper to get local news. Then sell the heck out of it.
- Use more graphics to demonstrate ideas.
As Mr. Waterbury says, “Local media thrives when it is truly local.” If newspapers are to survive, they must look at subscribers as customers. The lack of listening is killing newspapers, not the Internet.