Thursday, October 08, 2009

The editors doth protest way too much

Editors across the land couldn’t let Newspaper Week pass this week without wantonly violating the primary rule in medicine and marketing: First, do no harm.

“Talk of the demise of newspapers is premature,” said the headline on an editorial in the Aiken Standard that was typical of the faux-plucky tone adopted by most of the editors laboring to make the case that somehow, some way, their publications would survive.

Who are they trying to convince? The readers or themselves?

“Over the past century and a half, Nevada has had somewhere on the order of 450 newspapers,” said the Ely News. “We're down to 43 now – a number that held steady this year even though one newspaper was folded, because another new one started.”

Now, there’s a hopeful trend.

As any sensible marketing or advertising expert will tell you, emphasizing the deficiencies or poor sales of a product is exactly the wrong thing to do.

Customers only buy products – or, in the case of newspapers, use them for free on the Internet – because they see a value in them. They don’t do it because they feel sorry for the vendor or the vendor feels sorry for himself.

Yet, newspapers can’t seem to stop their incessant self-flagellation over the challenges facing their industry.

If you want to see how silly this is, ask yourself this: What are the chances General Motors would buy the following ad?

“Sure, we know we make lousy, gas-guzzling cars that are expensive and unreliable. Sure, we know our market share is dropping because we have inferior technology and styling. Sure, we are operating in bankruptcy and needed a massive federal bailout to save a few of the jobs that we haven’t already cut. But wouldn’t you like to buy a car from us anyway?”

Enough already.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, but while GM is foundering, Ford is flourishing. The secret: give people what they want. They don't cars so poorly constructed cars they rattle during a test drive (it happened to me), they don't want to see obvious flaws when things clearly have not been fitted together properly. They expect a professional assembly job. It is the same with newspapers. Yards of features and citizen journalism pictures are not going to do it. Whistling past the graveyard of this recession won't do it because the old days aren't coming back and advertisers are gone. There needs to be a return to quality and, yes, dare I say it, to news.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Mike Donatello said...

Couldn't agree more with your headline. Magazines are folding all over the place, yet you don't see them talking about how close they are to death. TV, radio and Internet revenues are all in the toilet, too, but they don't trumpet how they're near financial starvation. Why do newspapers insist on being their own worst enemies?

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Mike Garland said...

Typical of many of us, the industry is focusing on what it wants more than what the customer wants. The winners here will be the ones that exhibit sensible leadership and grasp the future instead of trying the scrape the scraps off the bones of the past.

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Sure, we know we make lousy, gas-guzzling cars that are expensive and unreliable."

Couldn't resist dragging this old horse out for another beating, huh?

Physician, heal thyself.

Reliability ratings:

Fuel economy ratings:

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For Anon 12:51
No, that is hardly a dead horse and GM is still rolling crap off the assembly line. Yes, industry publicists say reliability is up, but that is not what Consumer Reports found in its reliability survey:

"General Motors is a mixed bag. Among the bright spots is the redesigned Chevrolet Malibu; in its first year, the four-cylinder version is better than average and the V6 is average. The Buick Lucerne with a V8 and the Pontiac G6 with a four-cylinder are above average, and the Chevrolet Avalanche has improved to average.

But a quarter of GM models are still well below average in reliability. Some that didn't fare well are fairly new designs that did well in our testing, such as the Cadillac CTS and the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and Saturn Outlook SUV triplets. Chrysler trails the pack. Almost two-thirds of its products rate below average for reliability. The redesigned 2008 Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans earned low scores, as did the Chrysler Sebring V6 and Dodge Avenger sedans and the Jeep Liberty SUV. The Sebring Convertible has the worst score: 283 percent worse than average. The only above-average models are the Dodge Caliber hatchback and Jeep Patriot SUV."

4:30 AM  
Blogger Anne Holland Ventures Inc said...

This post is worth reading just for the use of the phrase "faux-plucky tone".

6:34 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Been following this blog for some weeks now and appreciate the insight. My experience with big city dailies is that newspaper companies don't want to save newspapers; they want to save profits. So as long as the focus is on retaining high profit margins and not looking at the product they produce the industry is doomed. Journalism will survive but the industry sowed the seeds of its own destruction so long ago there is no hope.

8:19 AM  
Blogger chuckl said...

C'mon, Alan, newspaper execs have been in denial for years, it's what they do best. Many of them still don't understand the workings of the Internet; they're just not built that way. Why expect anything different from publications that are run by the same management that turned down an opportunity to work with Craig of Craig's List and after meeting with him declared: "We're going to kick Craig's ass." How's that strategy working out so far?

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not just editors, Alan. Just today USA Today publisher David Hunke said the almost 400,000 circulation loss is just a temporary loss and that as soon as the economy recovers, "we fully to see circulation increases." It is as if these guys have blinders on, and don't understand the economic forces that the recession has unleashed.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Karen Fullenwider said...

I agree. Newspapers have been in decline for years, perhaps decades. The reason? The industry has championed bad ideas, bad management and mediocrity for years simply because it made publishers, owners and stockholders money. I for one, believe a rebirth is long overdue and am excited by the prospect of being part of it. I used to mourn the death of publications. No more. Now I think, let's just get on with the burial.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Pat Martin said...

I own two small newspapers and, like a majority of independent publishers, we're doing just fine, all things considered. The death march of the metros does not extend to most well-run community newspapers. Craig has hurt us little -- the real estate slump much more. So long as we provide our readers with what they can't get elsewhere, there is a market and a viable business to support the higher mission. Sorry to disappoint the gloom and doomers, but newspapers like ours are out here serving our communities, keeping an eye on the miscreants and making acceptable margins. There's nothing faux-plucky about it.

9:18 AM  

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