Say goodbye to Presstime. Say hello to new ideas.

[30 April 2009]

By Colin McGuire

PopMatters Music Reviews Editor

The Newspaper Association of America announced Wednesday that it is cutting 50 percent of its staff and halting the print edition of its magazine, Presstime - a magazine that has done a fantastic job of taking a good, hard look at the ever-so-fickle world of newspapers. The last print edition is slated for May 2009. All is not entirely lost, though, as the NAA also promised that it will continue to publish the magazine in an online form. A total of 39 positions will be cut from the NAA staff.

Great. As if newspapers weren’t getting their own throats slashed enough, now entire associations that dedicate themselves to the industry are dying a heartbreaking death, too. Why don’t we all just cancel our subscriptions today and move USA Today’s Web site into the No. 3 position on the “favorites” feature Firefox so eloquently provides.

Anyways, Presstime recently took the time to speak with various experts on the state of newspapers and where they may be going. The piece itself is highly-informative and certainly worth a click should you have an extra 10 minutes to spend reading about what the hell is happening with print media.

One thing in particular stuck out when reading over some of the answers these experts provided. The following question was posed: “You’re starting a newspaper print product from scratch. What stays, and what goes (sections, beats, days published, classified ads)? How do you rethink the parts you keep?”

One answer stuck out like a lone cloud on an otherwise cloud-less Sunday afternoon. Kenneth A. Paulson, the president and chief operating officer of Newseum, as well as the former editor of USA Today and USAToday.com, offered up some dialogue that is certainly worth taking a look at.

Most newspapers have an extraordinarily loyal core audience that has been doing the crossword puzzles, reading the obits and scanning the stock tables for years. These are generally older readers who will need and read our content for decades. The challenge is to weigh whatever changes you may have in mind against the expectations of this core readership. Yes, you can drop TV listings and replace them with new content to try to attract younger readers, but at what price? Will the gain offset the loss?

That’s a good question, isn’t it?

Why doesn’t a major metropolitan daily give the notion of new content a shot? One of the biggest gripes anyone has with newspapers is its proposed abundance of ignorance toward what it is people gravitate to when it comes to getting their news. It seems as though many publications haven’t taken the time to think about suggestions that could make their print product better. They seemingly ignore that option while spending the majority of their time researching ideas for how to make their online product better.

How about incorporating new features into newspapers that somehow mirror the attributes that attract the readership newspapers get online? There was a time when those aforementioned TV listings were non-existent in print media. It wasn’t until someone came along and thought, “Hey, there is this neat new thing called television and I bet the people who read this publication would like to know when to find what and where. Let’s see what happens if we can help them out by answering those questions with a couple pages dedicated to numbers, times and show titles.”

If print media decided to embrace the online forum more by incorporating certain aspects of the Internet medium into its print product - maybe more interactive features, reader-response forums aside from the customary “Letter to the Editor,” unique, out-of-the box niche section pieces on subjects newspapers haven’t paid as much attention to in the past, etc. - then who knows what could happen?

Paulson brings up a great point when he asks about the gain offsetting the loss. But his question is centered around the notion that newspaper readership has become strictly dependent upon division. He even mildly suggests that the difference between the print media audience and the Internet’s audience is purely generational. That notion doesn’t have to hold true.

It may be hard, but the newspaper can be a universally accepted thing, should publishers and corporations decide to put a little more effort into targeting more than simply just demographics and age groups. Instead, if they concentrate on improving the quality of their paper as a whole - targeting on not one specific group, but merely setting their sights on everyone so to speak - maybe they could begin to answer some of the questions no one has been able to conquer yet.

Sometimes, not everything has to have a price. And if some major newspapers would decide to take a chance on embracing the Web forum through the notion of combination rather than division, maybe the idea that some of the best things in life come free can hold true.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/73833-say-goodbye-to-presstime.-say-hello-to-new-ideas/