Warning to newspapers (and TV): Stop pretending

Warning to newspapers (and TV): Stop pretending
There’s a wonderful editorial in today’s online Editor & Publisher that brought a smile to my face. I work with television people who are just now beginning to see the necessity of innovation as they face steadily shrinking television viewing. I tell them the newspaper industry is a bit ahead of curve, because their business is also being gutted by disruptive technologies. This editorial chides the industry, because the party line being developed over the latest report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (the Nielsens of the industry) is, “We’ve stopped the erosion.” Bullshit.

“…it’s an especially lame response at a time when newspapers have actually bestirred themselves to do something about reaching all those non-readers and former readers.

“This time around, remember, newspapers were going to need no excuses. Venerable chains such as Tribune Co. were innovating like start-ups, launching alternative papers for kids and Spanish speakers. Certainly, it is way too early to render any final judgment on the success of these efforts. But in this FAS-FAX, only one daily posted big increases because of a new idea — and it’s one most newspapers can’t imitate. The Wall Street Journal recorded the highest circulation in its 114-year history by adding online-only subscribers who are willing to pay the full freight for its unique content. The only other paper with a dramatic year-over-year circulation increase, the New York Post, mostly earned it the old-fashioned way by cutting its cover price to a quarter.”

Television is in a similar — and in many ways worse — scenario, which is why I find the networks’ arguments with Nielsen about declining viewership among young males to be so disturbing. The battlefield itself is shrinking, and it’s high time TV stations moved to other battlefields and innovate in ways similar to our print counterparts. Truth doesn’t care if you believe it or not.

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