September 25, 2003

Al & Jeff's Excellent New Newspaper

Al Neuharth founded USA Today in 1982 after realizing "that the television generation will not fight its way through dull, gray newspapers."

"Now, says Neuharth, "I think the Internet generation is not reading newspapers."

What should newspapers be doing to capture the attention of the Internet-enabled generation?

Jeff Jarvis took advantage of his East Coast time advantage and beat me to the answer - with a smart, pointed outline of the "post-Internet newspaper."

Here are some highlights:

"We get commodity news from all those sources online plus, of course, TV and radio. So a newspaper has to focus on its unique value, which, in most cases, is that it's local. In the long run, online will be good at giving you the news in your backyard (we're trying) but that will, by its nature, be a bit disjointed. A local paper's packaging of local news -- its news judgment -- will still be uniquely valuable."

"We can get breaking news faster than ever before thanks to online Thus, you have to assume that there are no more surprises (unless you break them yourselves) and you have to stop believing that you are still announcing the news. Maybe your Page One should become a better summary of the news. If you're the Times, the Post, or the Guardian, maybe it should lead with commentary on that news."

"We search online. So we browse in print. Isn't that ironic? The Internet was going to be the browsing medium but if you've sat in any focus group about online in the last two years, you've heard loud and clear that surfing is dead; people search for what they want to get, get it, and move on. So a newspaper's strength is that it can surprise us -- not, perhaps, with breaking news but with great recipes or other useful information or, of course, fresh reporting."

Go read it all.

I add only this: The future of newspapers is all about innovation. Read Jeff's ideas. Make a list for your own newspaper.

Posted by Tim Porter at September 25, 2003 08:20 AM

Boggles my mind how obvious it is that local news is the only guaranteed niche we have, yet so many papers (especially in the Bay Area) think they must have all this national coverage. I think it's more because we want to cover the big stories than our readers needing our papers to find them. I don't know when our papers will develop the cojones to go all-local and put all our impressive talent to work developing local stories. It's not that we aren't, of course, but it sure seems a lot of our energy devoted to nation/world coverage might be better diverted into local.

Posted by: tom on September 25, 2003 08:25 AM

Tom ...

That's it. Newspapers can do many things to attract readers that they are not doing now, but the one advantage they have over all other media is the size of their editorial staffs.

Local news is the ultimate franchise, but "local" has varying definitions for each reader.

The metro cover of my edition (in Mill Valley) of the S.F. Chronicle today has these stories:

Oakland gets tough on truancy
Local pot clubs under fire from Oakland council
Family, friends pay tribute / Woman who died after taking abortion pill buried in Livermore
New car technologies enter the mainstream
Harvesting accident kills vintner, 35

There's not a single story there that happened within 20 miles of my house.

I don't have the answer. But I know this: The concept of "local" needs to be redefined.


Posted by: Tim on September 25, 2003 08:58 AM

Someday we'll zone by interest. The tech is there today, it's just a matter of the audience being plugged in and ready for it.

Posted by: tom on September 27, 2003 12:35 AM
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