Newspapers: Don’t be the web

The newspaper in the town of my birth, San Diego, has launched a redesign.

The redesign features fewer stories on the front page, more space for graphics and the name plate has been changed to the snappier "U-T" rather than the apparently more cumbersome "Union-Tribune."  The amount of actual news on the front page has been greatly reduced (and if you compare it to a San Diego Union or Evening Tribune front page of 1971, tremendously reduced).

While the redesign story says the U-T is recommitting to watchdog journalism and more in-depth coverage, everything else screams "we want to be the web in print."

The trend of snappier, more graphic printed newspapers began decades ago, but I continue to maintain that it’s no coincidence that as newspapers have moved toward trying to be more like magazines, or now, the web, readership has declined.

There is lot of reasons for readership declines, but what I don’t get is: Why did newspapers stopped trying to be a newspaper.  

A newspaper is about black and white first and foremost: headlines and words. 

Newsprint is a writer’s medium, punctuated and enhanced by exceptional black and white photography.

The effort to move newspapers toward color and fewer words has been destructive to the greatest value proposition of a newspaper: To be a product that thoughtful people spend time with.  The endless chasing of "time-starved readers" has done nothing more than alienate core subscribers.  And I also believe created a product that is even less interesting to younger generation of readers.

This remains one of my pet peeves.

I love the web. I think it has great, great strengths as a news delivery platform, and news organizations need to figure out how to more effectively deliver news online, but at the same time, publishers need to stop investing in splashy redesigns and instead invest in good, quality print journalism.

The way to fight print circulation declines isn’t to move away from good print journalism, but to embrace what makes print a great platform for great journalism.

My advice to publishers: Embrace the web as the web; celebrate print as print. Don’t try to transfer one mindset on the other.

Leave a Reply