If you build it, they will read it

printing pressThe world of newspaper journalism has been turned on its head lately with bankruptcies, layoffs, the discontinuation of print editions, the discontinuation of papers altogether — and many people seem to be struggling with how to help the industry survive.

I’ve been to several meetings in the past few days talking about the new, digital face of newspapers and how this is the way to be successful. I’m not sure I buy it, though, because I’m not sure newspaper publishers have figured out their problem: if you don’t give people a product they want to read, they won’t read it, no matter what flashy format you deliver it in.

There was a great blog entry posted recently about the 16 things people learn in journalism school. It is an awesome reminder to those in the industry about their responsibilities in wielding the power of the pen, which we all know is truly mightier than the sword.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that the 16 basic rules outlined in that blog are often pushed aside lately. I’ve seen it in the journalism schools themselves, as the basic concepts of excellent reporting and writing are ignored to make room for the teaching of delivery methods.

While I was at one of the aforementioned meetings, I was tweeting about changes occurring at the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, which both have recently scaled back home delivery to three days per week, have launched E-editions and are working on E-reader versions to be available on the Kindle within a few weeks. As I like to do while tweeting events, I started posing questions to start some discussions.

I thought one of the most compelling comments was this one, from @yasky:

They can’t control delivery method as they are no longer the gatekeepers of information. We may transition, but by choice only.

Perhaps that’s the biggest problem newspaper publishers are dealing with. They are faced with increasing expenses and decreasing advertising revenue. They are faced with a 24-hour news cycle that won’t wait for the ink to dry on the paper anymore. And they are faced with a fickle audience that will not pay for news when it’s available for free in so many other places. But, the harsh reality is just as @yasky said: they are no longer the gatekeepers.

Journalists as a whole, be they in print or broadcast, used to be the primary sources for news and information across the globe. Now, I often don’t hear about news first from a professional journalist, I hear about it from someone who has posted it on Twitter or Facebook or a blog. Certainly, that first person to post a news item may be directly involved, but often they are initially hearing the news from a professional journalist. However, that’s where the control stops. The spreading of news and information has gone global, it has gone viral, it has gone out of the hands of newspaper publishers and into the hands of their (former) readers.

So, the big question is, how do they turn those former readers back into subscribers? First, they need to remember the 16 things they learned in journalism school from the blog post linked above. Then, they need to learn to produce stories so well-written and compelling that people want to read them. They need to build a newspaper that, regardless of delivery method, people feel they cannot do without because it is offering information not found elsewhere. They need to, once again, become the gatekeepers of information that no one else has the time or the talent to uncover and write about.

I’m certainly not professing to have all the answers that are going to save the newspaper industry — no one should be foolish enough to claim that talent. But I am willing to suggest certain steps that newspapers should consider taking immediately:

— give the readers what they want and need;

— give the readers something they can’t find elsewhere;

— create a mecca for news and information that is credible and reliable.

If you build it, they will read it.

(Image courtesy of the BBC.)