News Leadership 3.0

November 06, 2008

Fading print

Outside the newsroom, a former editor finds more news online and spends less time with the newspaper

I highly recommend you read Steven A. Smith’s post about how his news reading habits have changed in the month since he left the Spokesman-Review newsroom. As a longtime newspaper editor who now relies almost exclusively on the Web for news, I found his transition a great reminder to all editors in newsrooms that the role of the morning edition is evolving more rapidly than their products.

I think the print newspaper will be around for a while to come. But as editors think about how to deploy fewer newsroom resources, it’s important to take into account the diminishing utility of the newspaper, even to many hardcore readers.

Here is Smith’s version of that transition:

“I find myself spending far less time with my morning newspapers than in the past. As a civilian, I find myself jumping through the A section in just a few minutes. Out of a newsroom and away from direct wire feeds to my computer, I go to the net to read national and international news. Yahoo has become an oft-visited site. It was never on my favorites list before. I also go regularly to and its various branches.

“By the time the paper arrives, there just isn’t anything in the national/international report that I haven’t already seen or heard.

“And this isn’t just about my local paper. On the road the last couple of weeks, I had the same experience with the New York Times, several local papers and USA Today. Even that last paper’s A section, snappy and readable as it is, held less interest.

“Of course, this problem has been noted endlessly by any number of people and organizations, particularly the online-only lobby.

“But, still, for an editor, the experience is unsettling and a little sad.”

And the clincher:

“But the fact is, if my several newspapers disappeared tomorrow, my life would go on, a bit emptier for the loss of routine and tactile experience, but no less informed.

As Smith notes in his post, none of this experience is new. Many who have left print newsrooms, myself included, came to find much of their news away from the beloved morning newspaper. Especially discouraging is the extent to which most newspapers still report news of previous cycles on the front page every day. I am always surprised to see mostly first-day headlines on the news—even non-local news—on the front page.

You would think the immediacy of the Internet would liberate print editions from that and enable editors to make more adventuresome and analytical choices for the morning newspaper.

Why isn’t that happening more? Do print readers miss those first-day headlines in the morning? What are the best practices for local newspapers? Please share your ideas in the comments.



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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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