Wednesday, September 4, 2019

5 ways to reinvent newspapers for millennials

As newspaper subscriptions have dwindled to the point of endangering a longstanding business model, it's worth pointing out some things could be done to revive print journalism business.

After all, there are some things to like about newspaper content. It's daily. It's not always-on, up-to-the-minute/second. This provides an inherent value filter against the immediate. It's local which increases the odds the content will actually be relevant. It's in print which creates a bias toward words and meaning, not images and emotion.

There are some things that can be done about some of a newspaper's inherent limitations.

First, get rid of newsprint. It's gross.

For a generation that grew up on laser printers, unsealed ink on newsprint is substandard. I once worked in an office that had a staff person gather the “clippings” each morning by physically cutting articles out of a newspaper. She literally had to spray and wipe down her work space every single day because of the disgusting mess the newsprint would make in just an hour. It smelled nice afterwards, and it was a potent reminder of why I have no interest in a newspaper subscription.

One time a family member told us about how useful newsprint can be with Windex for cleaning windows. There was something about the properties of that paper or how it had been processed that was especially good at not leaving streaks for some reason. The ink also didn't leave any marks on the windows either. While no disrespect is intended to the journalism it contained, this was a useful use of newsprint.

If not for the daily version, at least once a week have a print edition without using newsprint.

Second, make the content customizable. Make the whole thing shorter, too.

If a magazine can put a satellite photo of each subscriber's house on the cover, there are ways to make the content not such a product of mass production. There's a lot in a newspaper I don't care about or with no relevance to me, so let me not include that.

I'm interested in • top news, • local news, • Congress/government, the • weather, and • game recaps from the hometown sports teams. Being able to have a daily update—so I can feel caught up—and that doesn't scroll endlessly—so I can feel finished for the day—would be very useful.

Third, add new content categories.

I once told a lady well into retirement about how she could sometimes see the International Space Station fly over or close enough to her area to see from her house periodically. She was very interested, and also interestingly commented, “I've been reading The Washington Post for (decades), and I never knew you could do that.”

No, it's not the Space Race of the 1950's or 60's, but there's more to see now in space than there was then, and there are many naturally occurring astronomical events, too.

Try adding an option for a rocket launch calendar. Briefly describe their purpose. Tell me how I can watch them online. Other calendars such as from the tech world would also be useful for updates on upcoming product launches.

Anything that would appear in a daily almanac entry would also be useful in the newspaper—sunrise and sunset times, moon phases, moon rise and set timesweather stats, tides, holidays, day designations, etc.

Yes, a lot of this stuff is already available online. It's also a lot of work to hunt down these pieces of information, too. Being able to easily access all this daily or weekly information without the hunt is what would make a news subscription valuable.

Other things are not easily available online. I would love to be able to easily get • a list of all the events planned on the National Mall each week, especially over the summer. I'd like to be able to find out • why the flag is flying at half staff.

The news is biased toward controversy. Much of this stuff is not controversial, but it is interesting, useful, and valuable.

Fourth, integrate with consumer technology.

Along with customizing and shortening content, add some QR codes for where people can go for further details or a full article or other media, such as for wire service content.

Why must a person's news all be one single experience? Give the basics, and then easy ways to explore for more if something gains my interest.

Maybe even let people add RSS feeds of their own choosing to be included in their daily or weekly printed news. Even if they add competitor articles, this access would be one less reason to go to a competitor for information.

Fifth, offer non-print delivery options.

If I could have my ideal newspaper subscription, it would be letter-size • 1 page daily (no more than 2)—small print is fine—and • a more thorough weekly edition, also only a few pages.

With this option, it could be electronically delivered by PDF if not laser-printed and delivered. Perhaps there could be different price tiers for electronic-only and laser-printed versions. Either way, the print-oriented form-factor retains the value of the limitations in a periodic daily or weekly format. I can • print it myself or read it in a • print-oriented app on a tablet, for instance. I do this now with a PDF from a weekly local paper.

Currently, many newspapers give lots of access to all their content online if you're a subscriber. That's fine, but that doesn't necessarily help with getting me a concise summary of the information I care about for today.

As difficult as the news can be, news publishers would do well to make the print news experience more useful and pleasant.

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