FOR THE WEEK OF DEC. 04, 2006
Newspapers expand role to keep pace with changing times
Newspapers are kind of like an all-you-can-eat restaurant with lots of choices to suit varied tastes. Diverse readers are hungry for different ingredients. Compile a list of popular newspaper features or sections by letting students tell what three things they look for first or read most often.
Newspapers have advantages over newer forms of emerging media. See how many categories students can come up with where papers' web sites or print editions generally have an edge over e-publications, blogs, social networking chat groups, video-posting sites and news parody shows on Comedy Central.
Journalists want to help readers of all ages with choices about food, clothes, trips, entertainment, new products and other lifestyle decisions. Invite students to brainstorm ideas, individually or in small groups, for ways that papers can become more useful daily resources. Send the most popular suggestions to this newspaper's managing editor, who's listed on the editorial page and online in the Contact Us area.
Newspapers across America and overseas are applying fresh approaches to gathering news, selling ads and distributing information as dramatic advances continue reshaping their centuries-old industry. Publishers and journalists are not alone as they adapt to economic, cultural and technological changes. Libraries, video rental shops, downtown merchants, car dealers and other services also are affected by the Internet, changing consumer behaviors and the drawbacks of old-school business models.
New responses by more than 1,400 local papers nationwide include “web first” coverage, frequent online updates, wider types of local information, links to other companies’ papers, encouraging reader contributions, and partnering with Google and Yahoo to sell ads. Innovations are prompted by declining readership of print editions, financial pressures and the popularity of blogs, e-publications, The Daily Show, Youtube.com and other information alternatives. The New York Times’ online readership, for example, now exceeds the number of people who buy its print edition.
On a positive note, mainstream media remain the most trusted news source and the top choice of a majority of Americans. Fifty-two percent of 1,500 adults surveyed this fall by the Lexis-Nexis information services firm said they expect to trust and rely mainly on tradtional news sources in the future, while only 13 percent said they will trust and rely mostly on emerging media. When faced with major events that significantly affect their lives, only 6 percent said they would turn to Internet publications, user groups, blogs or chat rooms.
Strong local roots: Presenting more local information can help newspapers remain relevant and profitable, says a recent study sponsored by the American Press Institute. It suggests assembling databases about parks, medical facilities and restaurants, information about schools, consumer-supplied ratings for restaurants, mechanics and contractors, as well as chat groups for parents and shoppers. The report also says dailies could produce niche publications for tourists, young adults, parents, seniors, non-English speakers, sports buffs and entertainment fans. Its authors write: “The question has to be ‘What indispensable roles can we play in the lives of the consumers we want to serve?’ ”
‘Crowdsourcing’ experiment: Gannett, the publisher of USA Today and 90 other U.S. papers, last month began an initiative to stress local news, publish more user-generated material, become 24-7 “information centers” that stress web content and use readers as watchdogs, whistle-blowers and researchers for investigative pieces – a move called “crowdsourcing.” Michael Maness, an executive leading the project, says: "We're going to restructure everything in how we gather news and information. We'll shift our eyes and ears on the ground from reporters to the crowd."
Optimism: “Yes, these are challenging times for our industry. But I also can’t think of a better time to be a journalist, a more exciting time to be a journalist, where there’s more possibilities and more hope.” -- Steve Silberman, editor of The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, Calif.
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