Sunday, February 20, 2005

Daily papers readjust to take on competition

The newspaper industry is under assault from cable TV, the Internet, radio and our growing lack of free time to divide between those media.

Newspapers are conducting exhaustive surveys to find out what readers want. They are beefing up online editions and adding blogs, feeds and other "new media" offerings to their print vehicle.

Some are offering free papers, and trying to change the metrics of the industry. Readership (the number of people exposed) should be measured, rather than circulation (the number of people who buy). (Interestingly, I've heard similar arguments in the blogosphere - that loyal readers or "subscribers" should be counted much more than random hits.)

The changes are coming because circulation is eroding. The Baby Boomers are keeping the industry alive now, but the big fear is what happens when today's 18-to35-year olds don't match the Boomers buying patterns.

Sports Illustrated President John Squires recently told a room full of newspaper and magazine circulation executives at a conference in Toronto in November: "Print is dead. Get over it."

And with newspapers turning more and more to electronic publishing, their animosity with bloggers will grow, I believe. (Prime example: Jarvis vs. NYT). Newspapers will grow more vocal about bloggers "me too" form of journalism - and bloggers will growingly have to put up or shut up. No more starting the conversation with a newspaper article - we have to create our own conversations to be true journalists.

And I believe the line between journalism and public relations will grow even fuzzier as public relations professionals become "online journalists" for their company or cause. We won't need the newspapers as vehicles anymore, but we will need to become much better journalists in our own right. (Minus the burying the lead crap anyway.)

As advertising and (especially) public relations professionals, I think we are going to increasingly visit the question in coming years, "If my local paper did not exist anymore, how would I get my message out?"


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