March 26, 2003

The Next Revolution

Barry Parr of MediaSavvy responds to my post about news factories with these thoughts:

"There are about 1500 daily newspapers in America. Why do they all look the same? They've learned their ways from one another a long time ago, probably before you were born." [ Read it all ]

This is exactly right. Look at how much the front pages of America's newspapers resemble each other (the Newseum offers a daily roundup of front pages) in content and design. Individuality, which derives from the reflection of community, has lost out to generica.

I once worked on a few consulting projects with a group of people dedicated to reinvigorating the notion of community reporting. As part of a presentation I did, I put a dozen newspapers on a conference table - local papers from the region we were working in plus the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. On each I covered up the flag, or nameplate, and asked people to identify the papers. The only three that were consistently identified correctly were the Times, the Journal and USA Today.

Why? Because each of them is so distinctive that it cannot be mistaken for another newspaper. Each has the power of brand. And each is, in the broader meaning of the term, eccentric (deviating from the conventional). The stacked headline decks of the Times, the long vertical columns of the Journal, the colors blocks and bold type of the USA Today - love them or hate them, you can recognize them. They are anything but generic.

Cities, like the people who live in them (and because of those people) have different personalities. Newspapers should embrace and reflect those distinctions. Papers in Kansas City, Seattle, Detroit, or Raleigh should be distinguishable from one another. But they are not, aside from the names of the public figures and athletes who fill their pages. (I'm willing to acknowledge the view that America itself is generic and therefore so is its journalism, but I prefer to see the regional diversity).

Difference demands risk, even if that difference is defined as an adherence to tradition, such as is the case with the Times and the Journal. Most modern newspapers fear risk and therefore tread lightly around innovation.

Referring to the advance of "technology (that) has empowered a lot of writers and reporters to be their own publishers, Parr says, "The next revolution is still up for grabs."

Indeed it is. Change occurs first on the margins. If newspapers don't break out of their huddle in the center, they won't get the opportunity to be a part of it.

 First Draft Retooling the New Factory

Posted by Tim Porter at March 26, 2003 08:58 AM

Once your remove the wire stories, syndicated columns and comics, and stock prices, what's left of the modern newspaper?

What American newspaper covers its community as well as the WSJ covers business?

Posted by: Barry Parr on March 27, 2003 04:30 PM
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