Article: The Paper Chase

This article is the Editor’s letter for this month’s Vanity Fair.  He is talking about the future of newspapers and how he is fed up reading about their demise… in the newspapers.  For me, it is a piece of distinct highs and lows.  I don’t agree with a lot of the sentiment here – for example:

“Youthing” down a paper to attract 21-year-olds isn’t the answer: the only way you’re ever going to get the average 21-year-old to read a daily newspaper is to wait 9 years until he’s 30. 

What a ridiculous thing to say.  However, he follows up with:

My suggestion to newspapers everywhere is to give the public a reason to read them again. So here’s an idea: get on a big story with widespread public appeal, devote your best resources to it, say a quiet prayer, and swing for the fences.

… which makes sense.  Soon after, he rebounds when talking about the Daily Telegraph’s attitude to its website:

revamped the paper’s Web site and got the reporters to blog, produce Webcasts, and even Twitter to bring in a broader (and younger) audience. To many in the business, it seemed the Telegraph had fallen prey to the same near-lunatic fascination with its Web site that has been bedeviling American papers…. 

Which is a bit strange as I quite like the VF website, with its web exclusive stories, video, blogs and podcast.   Oh, and its Twitter feed.  Lucky that some online editor has his head screwed on (at least to the minimum of what is now needed / expected from a website), because the print editor doesn’t appear to appreciate it.

He goes on to discuss the Daily Telegraph’s success with the MP’s expenses scandal and how that helped sales to rise:

On the Friday the story broke in print, the Telegraph sold out. Since then, the paper has sold an extra 600,000 copies. According to the paper, it was the biggest sales uptick for a non-conflict-related story since World War II.

Maybe, then, that is the answer – write content so compelling that people will buy more papers.  This appears to be the editor’s point of view.

But it isn’t the answer.  The increased revenue from greater sales won’t make a lot of difference to a paper’s bottom line, as the majority of a paper’s income comes from advertising.  And therein lies the problem – in our current economic malaise, the lack of ads provides the real blow.

This is a subject that is far from simple.  There are no “right” answers.  One thing is sure – there will be more about the future of newspapers (and mags) to come in the coming months from me.


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