July 30, 2004

Act Like a Winner, Be a Winner

The Editors Weblog lists ten traits of papers whose circulation has increased:

1) Take the long view in terms of business success.
2) Have a clear definition of your audience - its needs, interests and aspirations.
3) Take the best stories to market before competitors.
4) Gain circulation today, worry about profit tomorrow.
5) Work with other circulation winners to integrate strategies.
6) Treat readers as customers and give them what they want.
7) Hire young journalists to imbue your paper with fresh blood.
8) Target all age groups, particularly older readers.
9) Target women readers.
10) Watch out for "moments of truth" when you have the opportunity to do something different, radical or risky ... and take the chance!

Do notice the similarities with some of the Readership Institute's findings I wrote about below? Think different, think about readers, know the community -- and encourage risk.

Posted by Tim Porter at 09:29 AM

It's the Content, Stupid

Newspaper readership and relevance comes down to one thing: Doing journalism in a way that connects strongly with readers to make them feel the newspaper is essential in some way to their lives.

What have American newspapers learned about content in the last few years, a period filled with hard warnings and harder numbers about declining circulation and a time in which there has never been more advice on how to stanch the bleeding?

Not much, it seems, given a study of newspaper content just released by the Readership Institute.

The Institute analyzed the content of 52 U.S. newspapers ranging in size from 10,000 to 1 million circulation and found a stultifying predominance of political and government news, a continuing lack of diversity, a reliance on staid writing formats and very little evidence these newspapers are offering readers information that enables them to act on what they learn in the paper.

Here are some bullet points from study:

> "Politics / Government and Sports make up nearly half of all stories. ... Stories about Ordinary People, Obituaries and Community Announcements combined comprise less than 5%. On Page 1, almost half the stories (about 45%) are about Politics / Government alone. > About 45% of all stories, but only about one third of the stories on the front page, come from wire or news services.
> The most common writing approach is straight news (i.e., inverted pyramid style).
> Most stories do not have go and do information.
> People mentioned in stories and shown in photographs are primarily White, non-Hispanic, older and male.
> Few stories directly address the reader; a large majority is written in the third person.
> About one-fifth provide author contact information.
> A very small number of stories directly solicit content or feedback from readers.

This is tragic. In the wake of the Readership Institute's benchmark study in 2000, which documented causes of readership decline and proposed an array of tactics to reverse it, publishers proclaimed that wooing younger, more diverse readers was a priority and editors' organizations focused on ways to change the content of their papers.

Much as been done since then, and many editors and publishers are working hard to challenge old ways of thinking and refocus their newsrooms and business operations on readers and on customers. But there are too few of them and too many others are not doing enough.

Good journalism is rooted in the coverage of communities, large and small. The Readership Institute study shows that newspapers as a whole still fail to reflect these communities. There is more to a community, more to life, than politics and government. Communities are not made up "primarily White, non-Hispanic, older and male" residents (although that does describe many newsrooms.) Communities are about interaction, connection and citizenship. A newspaper that offers none of those is not part of the community. Small wonder it is rejected as irrelevant.

The lessons to be learned from this latest Readership are clear: More local stories, more people stories, more connection with readers, more diversity - in short, more innovation and less traditional thinking.

The Readership Institute has been saying this for five years. Is anyone listening?

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:51 AM | Comments (2)

July 29, 2004

Growing Your Own: Training from Within

In my latest column for Tomorrow's Workforce, I look at how newspapers as resource rich as the Portland Oregonian and as small as the Gaston (N.C.) Gazette draw on their own talents to help their staffs improve as journalists.

John Pea, editor of the 32,000-circulation Gazette, destroys the myth that small papers don't have time or resources to train. He put together 40 hours of training for his editors using off-the-shelf materials and his own background. (Get a copy here.)

Says Pea on how he did it: ďFirst, just decide youíve got to do it and that you canít use the excuse of no time or no expertise. I just pulled together various resources to get me the expertise. Itís more commitment of time than anything else.Ē

Read the whole column here.

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:08 AM

July 10, 2004

Catching Up

I'm home for the weekend, but back on the road again next week. Here's some good reading I missed and maybe you did, too:

 Seattle Times wants its readers to blog the elections. (Thanks, Susan Mernit.)
Jay Rosen will be on of 35 credentialed bloggers reporting from the Democratic Convention.
Andrew Cline laments the dearth of understanding journalists have of rhetoric, a lack that results in he-said, she-said political coverage rather than the "movie production of campaign politics." CJR's Campaign Desk, on the same theme, proposes putting "A.O. Scott on the campaign trail and dispatch Adam Nagourney to Entertainment Weekly. Throw Roger Ebert on a campaign plane and assign Dan Balz to Disney. Order Andrew Sarris to Ohio and send Campaign Desk to the movies."
Tim Rutten labels 2004 as the "year of living dangerously" for the U.S. news media, warning of an acceleration of "journalism's slide back into partisanship." (Thanks, Kevin Roderick.)
 The Pew Internet & American Life Project releases a report that finds Americans increasingly turning to online media to view "graphic war images that were deemed too gruesome or horrific for newspapers and television to display ... but many who do venture outside the traditional and familiar standards of the mainstream news organizations to look at the images online end up feeling very uncomfortable." (Thanks, J.D. Lasica.)
 Campaign Desk adds a few more W's to the basics of journalism. No. 8: ""Why did I waste my time?"
 The New York Post got Kerrey's running mate wrong. You can buy a copy of Page 1 on eBay for five bucks. Truman-Dewey it's not. (Thanks, Sheila Lennon.)
 Jon Carroll laments the passing of "the old days of casual corruption and illicit favors" that constiuted the golden age of journalism." Hmmm. "Now we've cleaned up our act, and what do we get? Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass and Ann Coulter. You think maybe there's a connection?"

Posted by Tim Porter at 12:12 PM | Comments (2)

July 06, 2004

Follow the Money Ė If You Can Find It

My latest newsletter for Tomorrow's Workforce looks at how one newspaper company budgets for training and sketches a broad formula for thinking about a training budget. It starts this way:

"Hereís a familiar scenario: Your newspaperís top executives say they are committed to training. But the money put aside for it disappears, perhaps spent on something else when a hard financial choice had to be made. At yearís end, the money is gone and the training never happened.

"Reid Ashe, president and COO of Media General, thinks he has found a way to break budget-but-donít-spend cycles: He has told the publishers and editors of Media Generalís 25 daily newspapers that budgeted training dollars cannot be used for anything else. If they donít spend the money it will be charged against their bottom lines nonetheless.

"In other words, Media General newspaper execs who donít train will still feel the financial pain."

Read the rest here.

Posted by Tim Porter at 10:30 AM