worry

Wired News: Newspapers Should Really Worry Good article. But a huge point is missed.

Young people just aren’t interested in reading newspapers and print magazines. In fact, according to Washington City Paper, The Washington Post organized a series of six focus groups in September to determine why the paper was having so much trouble attracting younger readers. You see, daily circulation, which had been holding firm at 770,000 subscribers for the last few years, fell more than 6 percent to about 720,100 by June 2004, with the paper losing 4,000 paying subscribers every month.

Imagine what higher-ups at the Post must have thought when focus-group participants declared they wouldn’t accept a Washington Post subscription even if it were free. The main reason (and I’m not making this up): They didn’t like the idea of old newspapers piling up in their houses.

Don’t think for a minute that young people don’t read. On the contrary, they do, many of them voraciously. But having grown up under the credo that information should be free, they see no reason to pay for news. Instead they access The Washington Post website or surf Google News, where they select from literally thousands of information sources. They receive RSS feeds on their PDAs or visit bloggers whose views mesh with their own. In short, they customize their news-gathering experience in a way a single paper publication could never do. And their hands never get dirty from newsprint.

The point that is missed is that “young people” are not the only ones who feel this way. In fact, I feel exactly the same way! I won’t take a free subscription. I get my news from other sources and I do not like newspapers piling up in the house. There is always some moment of shock when someone offers me a free subscription and I say no. And I should mention that when I’m on a plane or in a coffee shop I enjoy reading the paper. It’s just that I don’t want to be reading it all the time and I don’t want it cluttering up my life.

But there is still more. Newspapers do not cover the news very well. There is no competition in the local markets anymore. I blame Nixon – it was under his watch that all the papers got to share revenues in single markets.

Since newspapers do not have to find ways to attract readers away from other papers any more, they do superficial reporting and cover boring facets of life. Worse there is too much news about the entertainment industry. Who cares if Britney Spears is constipated? I’ll probably write about this newspaper dilemma in PC Magazine in more depth.



  1. Anonymously says:

    The point that is missed is that “young people” are not the only ones who feel this way.

    Absolutely. I’ve subscribed to the New York Times on a few occassions. Each time I let it run out as I remembered what a hassle all those papers were. Even just getting the Sunday paper was a pain in the ass.

    The clutter around the house from the, I don’t know, 10,000 pages of the Sunday edition, was just too much of a mess. Recycling is a good thing, but such a hassle. Maybe if the newspaper deliverers would take back the paper if you left it out, maybe they’d be on to something.

    And honestly, I felt a little guilty not reading all of the paper. It seemed like such a waste.

  2. rvs says:

    I am currently evaluating if I want to continue to susbcribe to the daily newspaper. I’ve subcribed for years. I’m looking at two large stacks of old newspapers now accumilating in my office. My town’s recycling schedule is every two weeks so it doesn’t take long for the papers to build up. In addition, I notice that I am reading more and more information from the web via my PDA. it’s just more convienient to have news and information delivered that way.

    rvs

  3. Mike says:

    John, I’m with you on news sources. Between your blog and the highlights presented by “The Mouthpiece” I have all the news my wee mind can fathom. I enjoyed the creation vs. evolution discussion, especially your personal replyto my “apes still exist” comment. Been following your work since the “Personal Computing” magazine and you always make reading a worthwhile experience. I still subscribe to your current printed venues, and probably always will. Have a great holiday.

  4. I loved reading the article and your expansion of its main points.

    One of the reasons I avoid paper is that, as an IT person, I try to set an example for others and reach the state of paperless lives, for all.

  5. Imafish says:

    One clear division between young people (those under 40) and old people (those over 40) is the inability to throw away newspapers.

    I have NO problem whatsoever throwing away a newspaper. That simple act is impossible for my wife, however. She goes through an incredibly complex process where she carefully bags and stores newspapers for several months, until I get tired of them and toss them out myself.

    It also appears to me that if an inability to throw out trash is the real impediment to the adoption of newspapers, news carriers are going to have to pick up the old ones when the new ones are dropped off. Sort of like the milk delivery people of old. (Actually, my boss still has milk delivered in his neighborhood!)

    But, we have to ask ourselves if such a system is really the most efficient means of distributing the news. It’s pretty apparent to me that it wouldn’t be.

    BTW, the only time I like reading a paper is when I’m on the toilet or eating lunch by myself at a restaurant. Any other time I’d rather read online.

  6. Carmi Levy says:

    John, I think we need to separate out the very separate concepts of news delivery – which any electronic medium will clearly accomplish more rapidly than any paper-based method – and analysis – which I believe represents the future of newspapers now that they can no longer deliver the hottest news to the reader’s doorstep.

    [Before I do so, I’ll disclose my bias: I’m a newspaper columnist my city’s daily paper, so my feelings on newspapers should be blatantly obvious to anyone who reads this.]

    Surfing the web to read the latest news does little to put it all into any form of context. Readers know what’s going on, but unless they’re super-critical consumers, most of them don’t have enough guidance to connect the dots. In my view, newspapers still do this, and they do it well.

    As much as I’d like to stop killing trees for the sake of getting my daily fix, no screen-based technology can come close to the visceral benefits of holding a newspaper in your hand and casually exploring its pages. I’ve done my best to shoehorn technology into the lofty psychological space occupied by the newspaper at the breakfast table. Yet nothing has fully taken paper’s place.

    To wit, my PalmPilot’s SD card literally bursts with months of articles from every source imaginable. But sitting at the table repeatedly pressing the scroll button doesn’t exactly turn my crank. Similarly, Zinio Reader is a poor example of screen-based reading technology that tries to approximate the paper paradigm. Note to Zinio: you’re nowhere near there yet.

    At some point, technology will advance to the point that paper will go the way of the dodo. I’d love nothing more than to have the paper downloaded to a robust, easy-to-use and easy-to-read tablet-like screen that is designed from the start to accommodate the reader’s needs. Until then, I’ll hold onto my subscription.

    If newspapers understand this shifting paradigm, they will position themselves to be the most trusted providers of analytically-focused content regardless of how it is ultimately delivered to your door.

    I only hope the young readers of today understand the need for quality editorial guidance, and are willing to pay a premium to retain access to it.

    Thanks for shedding light on this critical subject. As always, you’ve done the community a great service in the process.

    Carmi Levy
    writteninc AT gmail DOT com
    http://writteninc.blogspot.com

  7. nicklaw17 says:

    Spot on. I’ve reached the point, as a frequent business traveller, that I’ll actually request no paper be delivered/held/left for me. USA Today is, well, mostly drivel, and I grab any info needed from a data-enabled pda… just like checking John’s blog.

    Happy turkey day, folks…legitimate or not, I’ll take the day off.

  8. Mike Voice says:

    I have weekly curb-side recycling, so the papers don’t accumulate too much.

    My peeves:
    1. Only one paper in my area – The Oregonian
    2. The standard frustration of “continued on page D6” – when I am in the middle of an article.
    3. Oregonian trying to be “different” by having a weekly science section that starts on the back page of the section it is in. So, near the end of that section, I run into the continuation of stories I haven’t seen previously – and must then turn to the back page to see the beginning of the articles! AARGH!

    All that frustration, just to get the daily comics! 🙂 For awhile, we only got the weekend edition – for the Sunday funnies!

  9. Alan says:

    I have literally told the phone solicitors they might get me to subscribe if they would pick up the old papers. This hasn’t as yet come to pass.

    However, a bigger issue for me has not yet been mentioned here. And that is one of service. In the past, the paperboy or girl was an enterprising young person (with dreams of a new bike or camping equipment) who seemed only too happy to place the daily at my doorstep. On particularly cold winter days it was not unusual to find the paper placed between the main door and the storm-door. To grab the paper didn’t even let in cold air.

    Today, (at least in my neighborhood) the paper is delivered by an adult speeding by as he (?) hurries to get to his day job. The paper is flung out the car window and with luck may end up at the foot of the driveway. This isn’t so bad in the summer (or if you live in Florida) but the last thing I want to do before my morning coffee is get my pajamas soaked by the North West’s cold winter rain as I trek out to the street in search of the paper.

    No siree, I’m done.

  10. K B says:

    I find the clutter aspect of newspapers only a minor inconvenience. I buy a copy every day (NEVER subscribe), and NEVER take the newspaper into the house. The key is to read them whilst dining out, and to discard them at a recycling bin before they accumulate. Eating slowly is good for digestion, and also helps prevent overeating. Reading a newspaper provides digestion time! Plus I like having actual copy in my hands– copy that I can underline, snip, and paste on my walls or toss in a drawer.
    Internet news is, obviously, a godsend. Any good story found in the local paper can be more thoroughly researched on the web. How did we ever live without it?

  11. Frank Baird says:

    Another reason to avoid the physical newspaper:
    When you are out of town, the papers pile up in your driveway announcing to every theif around: “No one’s home! Come break in!” Even if you have neighbors watching the house and picking up the papers, there’s no sure way to know that no papers are on your driveway.


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