Vin Crosbie: Serve readers better (duh!)

Consultant Vin Crosbie has just published a tour-de-force article on the very long-term survival of the newspaper industry in OJR.

Crosbie looks at the newspaper industry’s “steady 40-year declines” in circulation and readership and concludes that readers are dropping (or never picking up) newspapers because they just don’t meet their specific and unique needs. Band-aid fixes readership focus groups come up with, like more intense zoning, eliminating jumps, or bold redesigns, don’t cure the disease. Readers are telling us, voting with their feet: Something is fundamentally wrong with the idea of one-size-fits-all newspapers. And it’s not just print editions; Crosbie argues one-size-fits-all online editions have the same problem.

In short, Crosbie seems to see the industry’s salvation in being the one-stop “daily me that cuts through information glut from many sources, regardless of branding. That isn’t a new idea. But I think what is new is such a powerful argument that:

  1. Giving readers what they actually want — being useful — is what we need to do. (This is exactly what I want to hear as an online news usability advocate, although Crosbie’s point is broader than usability and broader than online.)
  2. Given that premise, getting there is going to require unbelievable levels of thought and effort. This isn’t a simple readership fix of redesigning your paper to better attract the youth market, or adjusting the topics you cover. This requires completely rethinking the entire process and staffing by which news is gathered, edited and distributed — and making very radical changes in print, not just online. (This is exactly what I want my bosses to hear.)

Back in the dot-com days, many media companies created or invested in separate interactive media divisions that often tried to create not just completely different content from the newspapers, but completely different kinds of content. That may have been an idea before its time. But it’s also possible that those interactive media operations focused too much on what they could do quickly in the exciting new world of online, and focused too little on what readers really wanted. Maybe the time is right in 2004 for an interactive media effort willing to make a long-term, expensive commitment to reengineering what we think of as news and how we should gather and deliver it to our readers.

Comment by john, posted March 4, 2004, 11:34 pm

Nathan, you might want to check out MyWay:

That's the start of the concept, minus the local and regional information I want... but, on my own "myway" page, I've got the categories of news I'm interested in, and the 5 TV channels I watch, the color scheme the way I want it, and the weather for my city. I really love the concept and would pay for access to this type of service, if it had 'all' of the news I wanted aggregated "myway" ...

Comment by Chris Heisel, posted March 9, 2004, 12:29 pm

That's a really interesting article... I've said it before, there is practically no cost associated with leaving a site (besides the few calories burned to nudge your mouse to the close box, and hit the x).

The online marketplace is a hostile environment the newspaper industry hasn't faced since there were real competing dailies.

Newspapers are just one type of "end" on the Internet, competing against all the others... blogs, portals, and whatever comes next.

We've got to serve our readers (duh seconded)!

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This page last modified on Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 8:58 pm