May 07, 2007

The Right Way Versus The Wrong Way

Let's say you have a newspaper. Now, your newspaper had its time in the sun. For awhile, maybe back in the early 1990s or so, it looked as if your newspaper was poised to take over the world, or at least the state, or at least your part of the state.

Now, in 2007, the newspaper business ain't quite what it used to be. Circulation is in the toilet, ad revenue just isn't to be found in the quantities of yore, and the classified section is a shell of its former self. The Internet has long since dealt your once glorious newspaper grievious body blows and upper-cuts, and is now doing a Mexican hat dance on your head.

You realize your newspaper, if it's going to survive, has to refocus. The key to survival is, it's believed, to emphasize local and regional coverage, and leave the national and international news to the national and international news outlets; everyone's getting most of their news in those areas from the Internet anyway. Make your newspaper about the local.

There are two newspapers I follow in Minnesota who are going about this very shift. One is going about it the right way, the other the wrong way.

THE RIGHT WAY: The Rochester Post-Bulletin. The P-B has incorporated a re-emphasis on local reporting with the immediate online feedback of reader comments to articles. They also maintain interactive blogs. They kept their popular columnists as columnists, such as Greg Sellnow and Jennifer Koski. Despite some hiccups when it comes to their Web page loading promptly, for the most part I think the P-B transition has shown how best to operate in this online age.

THE WRONG WAY: The Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Watching this newspaper adapt has been like watching a deer with a broken leg trying to free itself from a barbed wire fence while coyotes nip at its haunches. It hasn't been pretty. Rather than reacting to plummeting circulation with a calculated and thought-out strategy, they've instead reacted to extensive bleeding from the arms with repeated self-inflicted shotgun blasts to the shoulders.

They've given lip service to a re-focus on local reporting, but they just can't quite get used to the idea of NOT being a major newspaper, respected on the national stage. They seem to have a rough idea of what they need to do to save themselves, but they just can't commit to it. And then, when they do commit to it, they go and do something shit-all stupid as this. I don't like Nick Coleman (no, really, it's true), but despite his horrible writing, laughable "logic," and Grandpa PoopShoes cynicism about practically everything, his column is a recognizable "voice" of the newspaper. The same goes for all the columnists; they have their established audiences, and are a consistent reader DRAW. Hell, incredible.html">Dave Barry went so far as to call Lileks: a terrific writer and one of the best newspaper columnists in America. You make THAT GUY into a beat reporter? A BEAT REPORTER? Have you finally decided "to heck with it," and put the shotgun in your mouth for your final act?

Strib, take a page from the P-B and heal yourself before it's too late.

Posted by Ryan at May 7, 2007 03:16 PM | TrackBack
StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!