Why daily newspapers shouldn’t publish every day.

Overheard at a party in the ‘70s, “Did you read in the paper that….”

No one assumes that the printed daily newspaper is the leading source of news anymore because it’s no longer the case. But this is not another article about the demise of the newspaper industry. There are plenty of such articles and plenty of facts to support that thesis. The reality is that the heyday of the newspaper industry has long past. The romantic notion of the eager-beaver reporter exposing wrong-doing and some one yelling “Stop the presses!” made for a dramatic scene in a movie, but alas the newspaper industry reality show features cutting head count by 50%, desperately trying to keep ad revenue declines to only 20%, struggling to keep out of/or falling into bankruptcy, and trying to maintain circulation declines to single digit percentages. Every major newspaper has some flavor of this same story—some worse than others.

The world has changed forever in many ways, and the dissemination of yesterday’s news on a printed piece of paper is, in fact, yesterday’s news. The first step in solving the industry woes is to accept the fact that the old business model has collapsed for good–classified revenue, the historical engine that drove the profit train, has been derailed, online revenue is a nice add-on but not the panacea, the public will not willingly pay for web content despite the yearning of the industry, and circulation and ad revenue will continue to decline. There are many in the industry that still resist this  evidence and hope that a strong economy is ahead (we all hope) and that it will fix the industry’s woes. For the newspaper industry,  economic recovery will not fix its woes. The industry was already into the “long goodbye” before the economy tanked in the second half of 2008.

So with those cheery thoughts in this holiday season, what’s the industry to do?

1. Stop printing yesterday’s news every day. There’s diminished need for a daily newspaper in the face of declining demand, and alternative sources to obtain the news. Truth is that quality of virtually every newspaper has declined anyhow to the point that the majority of content is derived from syndicated articles. I know a handful of major city newpapers may feel that not publishing the printed newpaper daily is heresy (and for them it may be). Obviously their online product fufills the need of news up-to-the-minute as the public craves.

2. Publish the printed paper just 3 times a week—Monday, Friday and Sunday. Change the content from a recital of the events of yesterday to a deeper topical analysis of what’s really happening.

In this alternate model the three day a week paper will focus on important topics to the reader, but far less about the preceding day’s happenings. Here’s how it might work:

Monday–Two key sections: Business & Sports.

The Business section would have articles about business topics, local companies, national trends—a Business week in review. The Sports section would recap the weekends’ sports & implications for the week ahead. By the way a sports cross word puzzle is also a great add-on for the sports fanatic. I’m not ashamed to say I buy the NY Post on Friday and Sunday for that very reason.

Friday—Key section: This Weekend

This section could be an entertainment extravaganza with schedules to every key venue, an arts reviews, places to go, things to do. A far bigger section than the typical Weekend section.  Make the Friday paper a must have for weekend planning.

Sunday—Two key sections: Week in Review & Sports

The Week in Review can be an insightful and deeper analysis of the happenings of the week. This section can house the “investigative” reporting papers are proud of (but rarely do anymore). But since investigative reporting is rarely specific to a particular day, it can be focused on Sundays—perhaps a section called Inside Story. Sports on Sunday can be in depth analysis articles not merely a recap of Saturday’s sports. Opinion pieces about the local teams, national sports events. And LOADS of stats—local teams, national stats.

Notice that for none of those three days that the news of the preceding day is the primary focus. In fact, why not have Section A as Business on Monday, Weekend on Friday, and Inside Story on Sunday. If the paper feels obligated to carry yesterday’s news then it can always be in Section B. A reduced staff might be better able to support this product. And perhaps be more motivated (with more time) to write articles of deeper analysis since the articles are not about just yesterday’s news.

Would advertisers support such a venture? Perhaps, it might provide a stronger reason for advertising in the first place. And for readers there would be a more reason for buy a subscription to the printed paper or pick it up on the stand/store. I suspect that most papers could charge more for their three day a week product, perhaps $1 on Monday & Friday, $3 on Sunday (yes I know the NY Times charges more now, but they are an anomoly)

It must be incredibly difficult to work in an industry where the business objective is at best managing the slope of the decline. I’m also sure there are many in the industry that might scoff at these ideas as naïve and not well substantiated. Maybe so.  But one thing’s for sure, the industry is broken and the current strategy is leading to nowhere. Time for a new strategy.

Personal note: Lest I be cast as a newspaper detractor, I read 2-4 printed newspapers daily. However, I also recognize that I am in a small and diminshing group. I would sorely miss not reading some printed papers daily.  But life would go on.

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