KlinestarIt's not the Internet that's killing newspapers. It's the arrogance of editors and publishers who insist on clinging to the failures of the past that has brought on the slow demise of traditional media companies. It's not that people don't read, it's that the people in charge of what goes into your paper - be it in print or on the Internet - have used their view of what used to work to make choices that no longer ring true with readers.

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Daniel B. Kline: Blame editors and publishers – not Internet

Published 12:26pm Friday, June 18, 2010

In the Connecticut community I live in, I have watched a well-intentioned owner buy the local paper and proceed to make every mistake possible.

First, he fired the innovative young editor and replaced him with a crusty veteran – someone who looks good in the seat, but hardly a man in touch with how people consume news now.

The crusty veteran has his place. He could have been brought in to serve as the public face of the paper to reassure its decaying elderly readership that things would stay the course (even as they change).

He may even be a good editor, but he’s hardly the person to lead a paper into the future – one where readers actively create the news, and where Twitter, Facebook and technologies not yet in the mainstream shape how we “read” the news.

I watched this owner – a man I respect for his desire to save the two local dailies he bought – mostly drop coverage of the middle-class suburb I live in, but add a Polish language page to serve the barely breathing never-managed-to-learn-English crowd in the fairly poor city that houses the paper.

This owner presides over a paper with more editors than reporters and a news hole riddled with wire copy that anyone with a computer or a cell phone would not have any need to buy.

While the owner has his heart in the right place, he has created a newspaper that might have worked in 1975.

He has a tabloid format, but the lead story never gets more compelling than what happened at the Board of Education meeting.

There’s no service journalism, no interaction with readers and a stubborn desire to cling to the idea that covering meetings and writing about events after the fact makes you compelling.

I’m a failure at plenty of things (like my roast that tastes like a boot and my business plan for a company that makes absorbent, pizza-shaped paper towels strictly for grease removal) but I’m the uncrowned champion of local newspaper editors.

My papers – like my columns – might make you angry and they might make you laugh, but they will make you respond.

If I sat in the editor’s chair for this well-meaning, but fast on his way to bleeding-to-death owner, I would sacrifice the reader of old for the reader of today.

I’d build around young families and recognize that the medium they read in – be it print, Web, iPad or hologram to the brain – matters little compared to the quality of the content.

My paper would have no wire because nobody under the age of 70 reads a local daily for national or world news.

I’d mix traditional news coverage with useful service articles built from local sources.

My advertisers would be active partners in the content – not in a puff piece advertorial sort of way – but in an acknowledgment that ads pay the bills  and editors have lived behind their ridiculous “church and state” wall for far too long.

My “paper” in its print and its Web editions would find columnists who say things that inspire, enrage and, most importantly, get readers to respond.

Under my leadership, the owner’s bland op-ed page full of wire columnists and columns written by editors from other papers in the state who write serious (read boring) columns would become a place of controversy and passion

(In full disclosure, the paper I’m referring to used to run this column, but now runs a bunch of crap from the wire.)

The public still wants news, but they want it in a way that breaks all the rules the wire junkie/meeting-loving “traditional” editors have clung to for so long.
A place exists for local media, but the people who survive will be the ones who throw out the old thinking and sacrifice the reader of yesterday to embrace the reader of today.

Daniel B. Kline’s work appears in more than 100 papers weekly.
He can be reached at dan@notastep.com or you can see his archive at dbkline.com or befriend him at facebook.com/dankline. Follow him on Twitter, @worstideas.

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