Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Dying dead trees

I'm a print guy. I've been one my entire professional life and a little bit before that. That's why stuff like this make me sad. Although I understand that dead-tree journalism will eventually die, that realization doesn't soften the blow.

Newspapers, right or wrong, are a far more elegant form of communication than Radio, Television or the Internet. There's something about having the tactile feel of newsprint and the smell of fresh printer's ink before you. But that's nostalgia. That can be overcome. What I find lamentable is that by looking at readership numbers, you are quite often overlooking the forest for the trees.

My shop puts out to magazines, both of which I edit. A couple of years ago one of those publications went completely digital and a poll was conducted for the other to see if that was also a viable option.

Anecdotally, the first magazine's stint in cyberspace was a failure. It had been a useful tool for readers and suddenly it disappeared. No one was looking for it online, they just expected it to show up in their shops once every quarter.

The poll from the second magazine revealed overwhelmingly that readers preferred to get hard-copy editions. Even those that used the internet frequently said that hard copy was the best way to get that information to them.

What this says to me is that there are still audiences for print products. I understand that time will change these attitudes. In the case of the second magazine, those polled were retirees. Time will definitely have an effect on that audience. Recognizing that print is a dying beast isn't a difficult task. It's like a kicking that dying beast when it's incapacitated. What the print industries need to recognize better is the finite lifespan of their products and how to make them more vital to the public that still desires them.

I'm not seeing this trend in newspapers (though you do in magazines). Newspapers trudge forward with centuries worth of tradition stuffed up their collective fourth points of contact. They need to re-imagine themselves. Newspapers are no longer the home of hard news. Stronger news features and feature stories are needed. More interaction with the community and less AP news is needed. Proactive stances on community events are needed, rather than reactive coverage of things people are doing. That is, newspapers are traditionally things that tell us what people did. They need to focus a lot more on what people could be doing.

Sorry for the rant, but people are quick to put nails in coffins when the body's not dead yet (I feel happy!).

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