Will newspapers go the way of the Pony Express?

The Newspaper Association of America is launching an aggressive advertising campaign to convince Newspapers marketers that newspapers remain a relevant source of, well, news.

Quantitative and qualitative research, however, points in different directions, especially among younger audiences. In fact, most of the ‘younger’ people I know, as well as many ‘professionals’ opt for online news and information solutions. And, while the digital versions of, say, The Wall Street Journal and New York Times will always remain relevant, their print brethren face a bleak future.

I also find it rather ironic that one beleaguered industry, publishing, is reaching out to another, advertising, to prove its relevance. I’m not sure what the solution is, but embracing the opportunities of new media as opposed to beating its collective chest about traditional print, seems to me a smarter approach. So, rather than pointing to its multi-platform flexibility, I wonder if the newspaper industry would be better served by positioning itself as the logical solution for ‘Generation Next.’ The latter appear to have abandoned traditional and digital newspapers for a variety of new and alternative sources. Figuring out how to play in that new sandbox while remaining relevant to its core readership will accomplish far more than an advertising campaign.

Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea.

One thought on “Will newspapers go the way of the Pony Express?

  1. Repman: You’re right. The ad campaign feels … off. Or at least a little sad. But it’s understandable that an industry that for so many years has been silent about its virtues (journalism awards are for insiders, not the public) wants to shout: We matter, and just as much as we ever did!
    I’m biased. And so is the president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. That gent, Dave Zeeck, makes a much better, more eloquent case than I ever could for why newspapers shouldn’t be going the way of the dodo. You can read his entire speech here: http://www.asne.org/index.cfm?ID=6517. Meantime, here are some relevant excerpts: For the longest time, newspapers have let others — largely their detractors — define them. Never a good strategy. And think newspapers don’t matter? As Mr. Zeeck asks in his chosen profession’s defense (he is also executive editor of The News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash.): When was the last time a Google reporter broke a story in Baghdad or City Hall? Oh yeah, Google doesn’t have reporters. And what are most “news” blogs? Regurgitation of and comment on … newspaper stories.
    Thus endeth the quoting. Like you, Steve, I’d like to see the industry just seamlessly evolve. It’s sort of ironic that the ad campaign in question feels that it has to convince people of that very evolution even as it claims it is already going on: “Look,” it says, “people read us, whether on dead trees or online!”
    But let’s get to the bottom line. The point of any ad campaign is to convince and even spur action, right? Will this campaign get the advertisers to suddenly come to the rescue? No — and not because of quality problems in the product. (Yes, journalism has quality-control issues, but it always did, and its track record is much better than many industries). Simply put, advertisers got offered cheap ads online, and they got addicted. The same way readers are addicted to “free information.” Why pay Neiman-Marcus prices for print ads if there’s an unlimited inventory of Wal-Mart priced ads a few clicks away?
    The logic carries on: If newspaper publishers don’t charge the same rates for online advertising as for print, then how do they maintain revenue growth and margins as more of their readers migrate to digital? One way to maintain growth is to cut/hold/multitask staff. Many papers are already doing so — leading to an uptick in quality problems and a drop in unique reports and voices that truly connect with readers. The ad campaign doesn’t address this Catch-22 because, well, obviously ads are meant to promote. But also because the industry doesn’t have the answer yet.
    I want newspapers to shout their virtues to anyone and everyone, then shout them again. I just wish they had all the answers to go along with the bragging.