Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Newspapers and what to do with them - bonfires, anyone?

What to do with the NY Times and other rags...bonfires?

Seth argues for saving the Times by their own petard.

My crux argument: newspapers always have (and always will) write stories that boost their circulation so they can sell advertising.

Seth's Blog: All the News That Fits (do what you're great at):
"I'd argue they have two opportunities:

1. If it's in the Times, it's true
2. If it's in the Times, it's important

I should clarify. By 'true', I mean vetted as well as can be vetted, I mean more true than other places. They can never reach this level of course, but they can try harder than most and they can be transparent and they can admit when they're wrong and correct it. Lots of noise online, not so much truth.

By 'important', I mean 'important because everyone else is reading the same thing.' So, for example, the NY Times bestseller list is important. A half page story about the last factory making washboards is important. A glowing, thoughtful review of an overlooked opera is important. It's important because the Times becomes one of the last cultural touchstones, the thing the other smart people read."

Two points: TRUE is arguably what does some good for someone. In engineering and auto mechanics, it's what works consistently. In politics, it's what gets you re-elected (and won't show up later to haunt you). Newspapers have had the situation that "true" is what keeps circulation up so they can sell advertising. And so they are distrusted.

IMPORTANT can't mean publishing only the mainstream peak of the curve and overlooked interest stories all at the same time. Or could it. Reporting what's popular for your readers would make or break trends - and get big box suppliers buying your advertising. Because they need lots of viewers to by their low-profit-margin items. Searching out overlooked quality means directing "the people's" interest to see what only a niche has been able to utilize so far. And so, make a local trend go regional or national. Again, this sells advertising. (Offer small companies which are featured can be offered an intro ad rate to get their business as they grow.)

The Times, since it serves a massive community with untold niches and sub-niches, can afford in its web edition to publish everything for everyone. And, with unlimited advertising space online, can afford to give niche rates. It can actually be everything to everyone who reads it. Couldn't be done with the press edition.

With web news, a person can focus on those items which builds their personal world-view. And that is very valuable. Because that is security - something everyone wants.

What people don't want is to feel more insecure, something which modern reporting specializes in - figuring that human nature loves gore on page one (or conflicts with Al Gore, much the same). But that's never been true. Sensationalism is the most pop of pop trends (try following What's Hot on Google Trends for awhile in an effort to make sense of it - makes your head spin, as these things can become popular and disappear within minutes or even seconds). Titillation became obsolete with Burlesque.

And that's why I tell people to turn off the TV, quit reading newspapers (except local small-town editions, where they are still valuable) and get your news in small, subscribed doses. Only the news you need to improve your life for real. Use social media like Digg and StumbleUpon to filter it for what you are interested in. Use RSS readers to save time.

Should old traditions like the NYT be preserved? I'll leave it up to their subscribers. People vote with their wallets. But any editor of the Times should be running intense, continuing surveys to find out what people really what to fit in their paper - not finding out by taking the biggest advertisers out to lunch.
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