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Panpa Bulletin : February 2007
PANPA Bulletin February 2007 TECHNOLOGY MATTERS 28 Daily newspapers must learn to look forwards rather than backwards. That is, instead of reporting what happened yesterday they need to consider what will happen today, tomorrow and later in the week. Can newspapers learn from successful print publications? What are some possible futures for print? Over the past fve years, The Economist has doubled its circulation to more than a million. It describes itself as a newspaper, and it works like a weekly newspaper. What can daily newspapers learn from The Economist? The magazine is current. It deals with issues from the past week but it looks beyond to next week. It is also compact and more manageable than a tabloid. Too many tabloid newspapers tend to be so thick with pages that they feel unman- ageable. We should never ignore the signifcance of the feel and weight of a newspaper. The Economist is stapled and full colour. Most importantly, it is so well written that its AB audience enjoys its content. Its introduc- tions are models of what a lead should do. They capture or titillate or inform; some- times all three. The headlines are witty yet subdued. Best of all the magazine is an ideal con- tainer for the kinds of audiences that the advertisers want to reach. It is intelligent and does not condescend. It has special- ist writers who inform while entertaining readers. The Economist has a global perspective and directs itself to the AB demographic. In other words, it knows its audience. Most newspapers do not. I am often surprised by stories in The Economist. When was the last time a story in a daily newspaper surprised and delighted you? Most of the articles are short – stories are typically 300 to 1000 words, apart from the special report in each edition. In the special report, the stories are broken into digestible chunks, even though each complete report may run to 8000 to 9000 words. People think they do not have time during the working week. They feel stressed and slightly guilty about not reading the thick newspapers that pile up day after day during the week. People perceive they have more time at weekends; hence the circulation successes of weekend editions around the world. Newspapers try to be all things to all people, which means they produce news stories that contain three paragraphs of new information at the top, with the rest of the story a regurgitation the previous day’s events. Newspapers are struggling because they are trying to be mass media vehicles in a fragmented world of niche markets. If we must have many sections of a newspaper, better to separate the sections and sell the parts that people want. Every Saturday I discard the sport, recruitment, cars and real estate sections of The Age without opening them. Ditto the fnancial data and the racing form guide in the other papers I buy. Why not sell them as separate sections? Given the resurgence in feeling about environmental matters, many people would feel happier buying a smaller paper, knowing they were not contributing to the deaths of more trees. The newspaper has a well-known brand. As with The Economist, people trust the masthead. But the newspaper is a complex assembly of disperate parts. Which parts are most trusted? Which parts are not? Most newspapers have never conducted research to discover who reads specifc parts of a given newspaper. We have read- ership and circulation fgures, but these are only for the entire product. Newspapers rarely analyse readership of specifc areas. How can we know which columnist or specialist rounds-person is being read, and how often? How do we know who reads the AFL reports? With online content, we can get specifc data and analyse the readership. We can do the same with radio and TV programs, but not with newspapers. It is useful here to refect on what dif- ferentiates the people who contribute the editorial content. What skills do journalists have that makes them worth employing? Reporters write and subs package their knowledge in a way that makes it acces- sible to the general public. This is an under-appreciated skill. Because many reporters write with such clarity, the people who read their output confuse ease of reading with ease of writ- ing. This ability to express complex ideas in a way that people can understand is one of the few marketable skills of a reporter. What about bloggers who can write equally well? Blog numbers are booming. In late November 2006, about 75,000 new blogs were being born each day. Each day of the week, bloggers added about 1.2 million new entries, known as posts. That’s about 50,000 updates each hour. Some of this content must be worth reading. Newspapers need to embrace the fu- ture. They need to embrace bloggers, start producing more tightly edited newspapers and stop driving by looking in the rear vi- sion mirror. In the shadow of The Economist Newspapers can learn a lot from The Economist which has doubled its circulationin the last fve years, writes STEPHEN QUINN I am often surprised by stories in The Economist. When was the last time a story in a daily newspaper surprised and delighted you? Given the resurgence in feeling about environmental matters, many people would feel happier buying a smaller paper ...
November December 2006