Tuesday, January 09, 2007

'Got Milk?'; Newspaper Industry Needs Some

If you haven't heard, newspapers are in trouble. For print journalists and lovers of newspapers alike, the future looks bleak. Thanks to strong competition from the ever-expanding list of reliable online news sites, 2006 was a year of decreasing circulation figures, declining advertising dollars and, as a result, newsroom downsizing.

Will things get any better in 2007? Well, the answer little more than a week into the new year is a resounding NO! After reading a couple of articles in the New York Times on Monday, 2007 holds little promise for reversing the startling trends that have the Grim Reaper knocking harder than ever on the newspaper industry's door.

In For Journalists, Politics Not as Usual, Katharine Q. Seelye detailed how several traditional, and talented, print journalists — from such reputable institutions as the Washington Post and Time — are jumping the print ship to the cyberspaceship for sites like The Politico, which plans to focus exclusively on national politics and will go live on January 23. Seelye, quoting Ben Smith of the New York Daily News, hammers a nail into the print world's coffin: "It seems riskier to stay in print than to go to something new." Ouch! But wait, there's more bad news. In a dizzying cycle of events, the reason those behind The Politico think it can exist and succeed is that many newspapers are eliminating/downsizing their bureaus in Washington, thus limiting their original reporting there (read Seelye's piece, In Trying Times, Papers Retreat From Washington), which is in the first place a direct result of the pressure applied to the newspaper industry by the online world.

For several years now, newspapers have been on the receiving end of punch after punch, resulting in readers rapidly dropping their print editions. When is the industry going to pick itself up off the canvas and throw a few swings of its own? As newspapers fail to fight for their survival, it's becoming harder and harder to stand in their corner.

But the newspaper industry haven't been KO'd just yet. That scenario, however, seems inevitable if action isn't taken — and soon. Studying the real estate industry's playbook is an appropriate place to start. As the bubble was supposedly bursting around them, with the media taking a doom-and-gloom approach to the story, the National Association of Realtors decided to fight back, as reported by Vikas Bijaj of the New York Times in a November article headlined Realtors Say the Stars Are Aligned for Housing (TimesSelect subscription required):

It may go down as the 'Got milk?' moment for the housing sector.

Just as dairy associations, with their widespread ads, have tried to convince Americans of the many benefits of milk, the National Association of Realtors will begin promoting the notion that buying a home is an unalloyed good in a $40 million campaign that boldly declares: 'It's a great time to buy or sell a home.'

Where, then, are the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Newspaper Association, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and so on? For the most part, they've been playing intellectual parlor games at their conferences and within their own membership. But inside baseball is no way to capture the public and increase newspaper readership.

What the newspaper industry needs now is a "Got Milk?" style marketing campaign. When is the last time you were channel surfing and saw a spot promoting the vital need to read newspapers regularly — and the rewards that come from doing so? If real estate professionals can dump $40 million into an effort to convince the public to dump a few hundred-thousand dollars into buying a home, the newspaper industry can certainly throw a few advertising dollars into a campaign to persuade people to throw a few quarters into their newspaper's vending machine. If dairy associations can make drinking milk cool, than newspaper associations can certainly make reading a product that naturally caters to a bevy of diverse interests (with local, national and international news, opinion, business, sports, arts, entertainment, comics, and even games) hip once again.

But the time for such a marketing blitz is now — before the death of newspapers evolves from a frightening threat into a sobering reality.

1 comment:

David said...

I couldn't agree more. I love newspapers. While I was far from a geek, there was nothing better on college summer trips to the Jersey Shore than hitting the 7-11 and grabbing about 8-9 different papers to read on the beach. I still read 5+ papers a day and hope the industry figures out how to survive. If they are not going to attack their Web competitors, figure out a way for the newspaper to be the authority on Web happenings. Learn how to co-exist.