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April 24, 2009

If Baghdad Bob Wrote for "E&P"

The results would probably look something like this column - "They will surrender, it is they who will surrender!"

NEW YORK Enough already. Partial facts and misinformation about newspapers are distorting the view for everyone, including readers and advertisers.

Let's set the record straight: Newspapers still enjoy considerable readership and deliver strong results for advertisers. More Americans read printed newspapers than watch the Super Bowl. More Americans read printed newspapers than own dogs. Newspapers and their Web sites reach a larger audience than ever before.

The crisis facing newspapers is not an audience problem. It is a revenue problem.

Let's see...what do newspapers base their advertising rates on? What do potential advertisers look for when trying to figure out how to spend their money? What is the connection between revenue and audience? Yeah, that's a real stumper she's got there.

Barrett's true Baghdad Bob-ishness is revealed in her desperate comparisons. Number of daily newspapers? 1,422. Number of Super Bowls? One, once a year for five hours or so. A more relevant comparison would be number of newspaper readers versus...say...number of hits per day on the Drudge Report. Something tells me that comparison would not work as well for Barrett.

Not content to simply refuse one acknowledgment of reality, Barrett doubles down:

There is no shortage of other theories on why newspapers are hurting. Most come from those without direct responsibility for the financial health of a newspaper. Some popular explanations:

1.) Newspapers are too liberal and drive off readers as a result.
2.) Newspaper publishers are slow to embrace new technology.
3.) Newspapers are losing readers to the Internet.

As my father used to say, they donít know what they donít know. In reality, none of these theories is responsible for newspapers' woes.

In other words, no, newspapers aren't losing readers because of liberalism, technology issues or the internet! Why not? Shut up, that's why not. Let's examine each of those issues separately.

1.) Newspapers are too liberal and drive off readers as a result.

I'll let Vanderleun handle this one. Short answer? It's hard to make money in a highly competitive market when you alienate half your audience on a daily basis. Example? This headline, from my hometown paper.

2.) Newspaper publishers are slow to embrace new technology.

Part myth, part truth. Newspapers did jump onto the internet pretty quickly. The problem was that they simply dropped their printed content onto the internet, and then either put those stories behind irritating registration walls (I'm looking at you Washington Post) or tried to charge for it. Not exactly the best strategies when dealing with a medium known for providing content that's both free and accessible. The best example of a newspaper that understood the internet was the Wall St. Journal. They provided their content online, but also provided significant value-added features.

3.) Newspapers are losing readers to the Internet.

This one is undeniable. Of course print newspapers are losing readers to the internet. In an age when news is broken, analyzed and forgotten in the time it takes to post it in HTML or talk about it on cable, the idea of 'breaking' news on paper hours after it has been thoroughly dissected by the networks and the blogs is ridiculous. More often than not, the headline on the front page of most newspapers is always old news.

What's killing newspapers is pretty simple - they are a product of the industrial age. Every day, a newspaper takes a huge staff, enormous machines and a lot of money to produce. I think the future of newspapers is local. By the time our local paper runs national news headlines, the news in question has already been reported by cable news and digested, analyzed and in some cases deconstructed by blogs and online news outlets. Local news, however, has not.

The newspapers that understand that reality will survive. Those that do not, will not.

Cross-posted at the Greenroom.

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posted by Slublog at 08:15 AM

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