Imagine your city without a daily paper. Newspaper publishers, editors, managers and owners are worrying, not only about having to lay off staff, but who will cover the community in a meaningful way.
In Economics 101, it’s the classic “free rider” problem. Who will attend planning meetings and the statehouse? Who will investigate police and crime? Will news only get covered when there is an outburst, and it somehow gets posted by some unwashed blogger? Let’s call it the era of “Don’t Taze Me Bro” journalism.
But it does not have to be that way. There is a role for your the local paper, because in some cases, these local franchises have been the leading local brands in their markets.
That being said, there is a problem for newspapers. The incredible 30 percent margins, unbelievable power and unassailable position of your regional paper in past years have all made it hard for you to know what to do, and unable to act like the underdog. So far, your paper has redesigned pages, shortened articles, cut staff, eliminated bureaus, reduced paper size and redesigned your website now about, oh, 10 times. What the industry has done is put the newspaper in a severely reduced competitive position at a time when you need your scale and power more than ever.
Newspapers are the point where radio was after the advent of television. For years after television arrived, radio networks ran Hoover-era schedules of soap operas, dramas and westerns, even as television encroached on its audience. Radio’s audience declined. But one day, clever station managers realized that if radio was to survive, new leadership would have to remake it completely. Somewhere in the 1950s, the proper mix of news, d.j.s, traffic, weather, music and talk radio was invented, and the great radio stations survived. Rock music arrived. FM took off. And radio’s KDKA, WABC, KYW and the like thrived again.
The Greatest Regional Brands
Like the great radio stations, newspapers are important regional brands that need not go the way of the regional department store. The regional newspaper brand names mean something to the community. They evoke a region like no other. Use that legacy.
The Hartford-Courant. The Virginian-Pilot. The Richmond Times-Dispatch. The Los Angeles Times. Louisville Courier-Journal. Newark Star-Ledger. The Baltimore Sun. The Miami Herald. The New York Post.
These franchises have legs, and the public trusts them, even though they curse the editorials. Use that legacy and history. People like the idea of reading a newspaper. Do not let your brand go the way of the regional department store. Unless you act, The New York Times will do to regional daily papers what Macy’s did to Burdine’s, Marshall Field and the rest.
Pronounced Dead Many Times
The newspaper has been pronounced dead many times, as have other media. A timeline:
• 1910: Recorded music will kill the orchestra.
• 1930: Radio will kill the newspaper, and the music industry.
• 1950: Television will kill the newspaper, and movies.
• 1982: Cable will kill the newspaper and the network news.
• 1995: The Internet will kill the newspaper and the music industry.
• 2002: The Internet will save the newspaper and kill the movie industry.
• 2009: Kindle kills the newspaper, and bloggers instead scoop the greatest story of all time, the Second Coming!
Let’s get serious. Newspapers can reinvent their century old brands.
What to do?
First, believe that there are solutions. The important point is not to give the pessimism an inch. Instead, realize that there is a changed environment, and you need to establish a process for coming up with, and implementing, ideas. New ideas. And you have to completely commit to killing sacred cows. Your staff might be smaller, and have to work differently. Radio killed off Dark Shadows. CBS took the risk of moving Edward R. Murrow from radio to television.
BrandlandUSA.com put together a FREE 10-page PDF report called 20 Ways to Re-Invent the Local Paper. A link is below and here 20 Ways to Save Your Newspaper. The sheet includes the following ideas, each with descriptions.
To start, we suggest that newspapers:
- Change the percent of R.O.P. advertising vs. insert advertising
- Greatly upgrade the status of carriers
- Selectively use bureaus for promotional purposes
- Make the newspaper unique, even at higher cost
- Drop online partners that don’t help you
- Force the web staff and print staff to compete
- Cut back on zoned editions
- Stress the local brand, not wire copy
- Ditch ombudsmen
- Move sports reporters to city desk
- Go on old-style crusades
- Emphasize news side balance
- Re-hire retired staffers part-time
- Make the design stodgy
- Decrease photo size
- Reorganize classifieds
- Make weddings and obits free
- Change minority recruiting practices
- Don’t rest on old ad rates
- Bring humor back into the paper
Want to find out more? Download a free PDF copy of the document here at BrandlandUSA’s 20 Ways to Save Your Newspaper.