Hard Copies Ease Hard Times?

Washington Post story

The election hangover has subsided, but not the renewed journalism high many of us are feeling. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country stood in lines at local news stands and news outlets to get a hard copy of fresh news the day after the historic election of Barack Obama November 4. And it was not just newspaper people. Everyone wanted to hold in his or her hands the old fashioned ink on paper version of that historical event.

It goes back to what I have been saying and writing about for years. The daily newspaper has been declining in circulation for 20 years, but it will not completely disappear. There is a need to repurpose the content and to capitalize on the audience’s appetite for a physical representation of world events, history,local life. I believe with the crowded media landscape, newspapers need to find the niche of specialty storytelling, performing a service other media and citizen journalists cannot. That means newspapers are story papers, delivering excellence in long form writing, investigative journalism, analysis, superb narrative about issues, anniversaries, historical events, all in context. Even Time magazine is selling hard and soft cover books on the election already. People still want to hold history in their hands.

My student advisee this quarter on a journalism residency at the Miami Herald, Kirstin Maguire, wrote about the hard copy phenomenon in two separate stories.
Miami Herald Story
Miami Herald Story

People don’t go to the newspaper today to find out what happened yesterday. As hybrid consumers of news and information, they have heard about and digested the day’s events on the radio, TV, the Internet; chances are they have already blogged about it themselves. But what is needed is for trained journalists who understand the necessity of solid, balanced and accurate reporting gathered with ethics and integrity, to offer deeper context, analysis and depth. There is a difference between a casual blogger and an investigative journalist. And it is more than a press card.

I sat in on a design class last week of my Medill colleague, Susan Mango Curtis, when her guest speaker was Jonathon Berlin of the Chicago Tribune. He is a key force behind the redesign and visual pop of the paper. He told the students, “Choose the right thing to do with the right media.” He meant that a story can be enhanced with video, audio, stills, graphics, interactives, but he advised not to just do it all or do one because that is all you know how to do. Journalists need to know why they are telling a story a certain way. To differentiate the newspaper product from all else that is available to consumers, journalists must produce stories that go deeper, he said. “We’re asking our journalists to do more now than ever before.” The Chicago Tribune sold 600,000 extra copies the day after the election.

Media is changing and the revolution has not slowed.

Last week National Public Radio announced that Vivian Schiller, senior vice president of NYTimes.com, is moving to NPR the first week of January as the new president and ceo of the highly respected radio entity. Nothing can better demonstrate the alliance, convergence, disruption and coordination of formerly separate media entities than this move. With a background in print at the Times, web and broadcast at CNN and Discovery Times Channel as well as film documentaries, Schiller brings with her the artillery necessary for a media company to cope in changing times. I expect perhaps in the future for NPR to figure out a way to allow the audience to hold in its hands physical versions of audio stories– not just books as they do now or donwloadable CDs– but stories in printed form.

A few weeks ago I attended a conference in Chicago run by the International News Media Marketing Assoication INMA.
INMA
John Lavine, dean of Medill, headed a panel about the future of news. Newspapers need to have “a portfolio of niches that does unique things well, that offer differentiated news that is valued and engaging,” he said.

Lavine said every person looking for news and information on each and every platform asks himself or herself the question, “What is worth my time?” According to Lavine, newspaper editors, reporters and owners need to ask the question, “Do the first 100 people who see it (the newspaper) regularly, refer that to another person?”

The thousands of people who stood in line from Chicago to Miami to Washington, D.C. waiting for a hard copy of the hard news that was the election coverage asked that question, “Is it worth my time?” The answer the morning after on November 5, 2008 was a world-resounding “yes.”

And that is good news for all of us who love the news.

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