What’s ahead for daily journalism? Two former Twin Cities newspaper execs weigh in

Two former Twin Cities newspaper execs are featured in a discussion about the mission of daily newspapers just posted on the Newspaper Association of America’s website.

Ken Doctor, former Pioneer Press managing editor, and former Star Tribune editor Tim McGuire are two of the 10 experts polled about their thoughts on the future of daily journalism — they’re in favor of it!

Some excerpts from our once-local guys:

On the mission of newspapers:

Doctor:
Our daily print newspaper must remain, first of all, daily. Publishers should not be the ones to break the daily print reading habit for the tens of millions of Americans who still look forward to their morning hit. Second, the core paper must please its core audience which is becoming more niche-like, baby boomer-plus in age and likewise retain as much of the print advertising that will sustain companies’ transition to hybrid print/digital companies.

McGuire: Print products cannot get caught up in “commodity” information. Everything a print source does must “add value.” Even weather and sports must be presented in ways that distinguish the information from commodity sources.

Does eliminating sections or days of distribution strengthen the core product in the long run?

McGuire:
Printing some days may be a viable answer, but it’s happening for all the wrong reasons. More newspapers ought to be asking where are the holes in my media market, and how can I fill them? And they should be asking if we make certain moves in this market like publishing three times a week, what are the countermoves I can expect? I am going to be stunned if a competitor does not put a Sunday-Monday sports product into Detroit. The Detroit papers should do that before a competitor does.

Doctor: I call it “dayscrapping,” and it needs to be done judiciously. I’ve talked to publishers who are going to cut Monday and Tuesday classified sections and believe they can just extend 11-day buys out farther. That makes good sense. Dropping days altogether saves significant costs in the short run but accelerates the transition to digital — and we know there’s far less money in digital publishing at this point.

Who is the audience for the core newspaper in terms of readers and advertisers? Who should it be aimed at?

Doctor:
The average print newspaper reader is about [age] 57. It’s a great audience, with above-average income, wealth and education. It’s just not the mass audience of yesteryear. Newspapers have to match their real audiences with advertisers who really want to reach those audiences and price accordingly.

In the past, reinventing the core product might have been seen as just redesigning the look of the paper. Is that still part of it? What else needs to be done?

McGuire:
Print publishers need to totally rethink what they are doing and [ask]:

• Do I want to deliver eyeballs to customers, or do I want to entice customers to pay for the product or a combination of the two? How do I support the news gathering I want to do?

• Is this a mass endeavor, or it is targeted? What are the information opportunities for that market?

• What is my role in the democratic process? If you want one, go for it. If you want to be all Britney [Spears], all the time, chuck the democracy façade.

• What are the market’s information needs and potentials?

• What is it that we can do for our market that nobody else can, and how valuable will that be to the market? If it is a commodity product, I can’t charge much. If it is truly special and distinguishable, the value of my product is greater.

• Invent a new product that is not tied to yesterday but is tied to serving your market or community. Create and add value that meets the market’s needs.

In a Web-first, print-second world, what role does the core newspaper play? What is its relation to other products?

Doctor:
My sense is this. It’s a comfort product, one that tens of millions of Americans like, just as they like their trip to Starbucks. It’s a convenient product, browsable and portable, something the Web still isn’t. I love being able to read The New York Times on my iPhone but not for long stretches. It oozes community, if its journalism is authentic and good, much more than any wonderful news Web site. All these qualities should be emphasized in product creation and marketing.

What will the core newspaper look like in two, five and 10 years?

Doctor:
It will be smaller, more expensive and fairly data-free. It may resemble the 32-page daily newsstand edition envisioned in Detroit.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Jamie Larson on 04/04/2009 - 12:17 pm.

    Are the papers truly losing money, or merely not gaining a 10%+ return that their investment company owners would like to see? From a short google search, it looks like the STRIB made $26 million in profit last year. Is this not adequate? Would it better serve the altruistic nature of a public service to make these papers a non-profit or somehow re-engineer them?

    I’m a 33 year old who used to be a daily newspaper subscriber. I have lapsed because of the missing “added value” sections. Sections like more local news, public interest and arts coverage, along with the special sections that have been cut. Now, from what I usually see when I get a hair cut, am at a restaurant or am in a waiting room (about the only time I see a print paper) the local two big newspapers appear to be all newswire articles and ads. I already get this from cnn.com and bbcnews.com.

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