Monday, July 28, 2008

How To Save Your Local Newspaper

This morning comes the news that A.H. Belo will shed an additional 500 jobs - this on top of the hundreds already cut in the past five, six years or so. What does this mean for Dallas' Only Daily? Less people working there, of course. And you can be willing to bet they won't be this guy, this guy, this guy or this guy. And today, on various and assorted city blogs, there's been plenty of "why do we even have this liberal-commie-pinko-conservative-republicanloving-anti-American newspaper anyway?" posts, but none that are really all that helpful. How do you save a large metro daily that, much like Baby Jane, refuses to come to grips with reality and instead totters toward some horrific collapse? You forget ego. This isn't New York. It's not Time magazine. You're going to have to figure out what readers want, and then do it - even if it means giving up what you think is all the bright and shiny stuff. Which leads me to this: You know what newspapers are having a decent time of it? Community newspapers. Know why? They're local, local, local. And not in some half-assed way. They're all in, and their readers enjoy it. It's the reason why you can still see People Newspapers, Star Newspapers, and Today Newspapers still going strong. People want to read about what's going on where they are. NeighborsGo was a decent first start. But to stop there is like Josh Hamilton seizing up midswing. It's not going to produce anything - as I'm sure we've all noticed. Sure it's popular, but when you go from it to the Metro section, that's when you get your miss. There are simply not enough Metro reporters, and the Metro section is too small. People want to know stories about their communities. There are over a million people in Dallas alone, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, and I wager 1/3 of them at least have interesting stories to tell. That being said, yes, people do want their national news. But in this day and age, people are turning to other sources for that - primarily because they can get it faster than TDMN can print it. How do you cover state and national news? Again - make it local. A national wire story that runs now - all 15 inches of it - in the A section could be pared down to a simple sidebar, and instead that subject gets a local spin. If it's a new state law, then how is that going to affect the Dallas area? If it's a story about Hurricane Dolly, then how is the local Red Cross finding gas prices affecting its ability to help respond in situations like that? Yes, to a certain extent stories like that are being done - but hyperlocal means 15-25 percent wire, not 50 or 75. The Dallas Morning News can survive - but it has to be relevant to its readers. It can't do that with columns about doodads on street lights, stories by Wayne Slater that I read already in Time or the Wall Street Journal two days ago by someone else, or by letting people like Ed Bark go. In short, you need more Levinthal, and less um, other stuff.