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Newspapers Are a Bigger Joke Than Comics

Things are getting so bad in the newspaper business, you can't even turn to the comics for a laugh anymore.

That's because, according to this offering on the ABC News website, with increasing numbers newspapers are slashing comic strips to save money. According to the story, The Washington Times has actually eliminated its Sunday comics section altogether.

Many of the papers that are holding onto their comics are featuring them less prominently by shoehorning them onto one page, thus freeing up space for other news that has been squeezed by an ever-shrinking newshole.

Many, many others are shuttling them off their print pages in hopes of finding favor online.

No doubt these are terrifying times in the newspaper business. Too often, though, I have seen the enemy, and it is the newspapers themselves.

Last week I typed about a well-intentioned, but short-sighted editor who believed running day-old news on his paper's web site was prudent, because it rewarded his Sunday print readers with exclusive copy. Brilliant. Nothing like putting old copy up on your web site to enhance your brand.

Then there was the L.A. Times cheapening its news brand with a bait-and-switch ad for the movie "Alice in Wonderland" on its front page. That one was almost fitting, don't you think?

And at any given moment, many papers are blasting 24-hour-old world and national 'news' stories across their front page as if every single person in their circulation area hasn't seen or heard about it already thanks to the invention of TV and radio -- not to mention the Internet.

Many readers are grudgingly leaving newspapers because either they don't find the paper relevant to their lives, or because it is their turn to appear on the obituary pages.

Yep, at some point you start to believe that newspapers pretty much get what they deserve ...

If newspapers are going to be sustainable they absolutely must find a way to draw the attention of younger readers. You'd think this wouldn't be treated as if it were rocket science.

So let me repeat this again for all the deaf and dumb editors and publishers out there: Kids aren't reading your newspaper anymore, you knuckleheads, because you give them no reason to. If the kids don't get in the habit of reading your product you will certainly die.

At every paper in which I ever worked, readership survey after readership survey found that the comics were among the top-read features in the paper. Often they were No. 1.

This is because comics had some appeal for both the younger and older generations. They were also the one place (besides sports) where readers could turn for some good news -- maybe a laugh, even.

It was also instructive to look around a room full of serious journalists, when results like this were made available via some awful PowerPoint presentation.

These folks were mortified to find that the 36-column-inch, thumb-suckers they were running or writing regularly about some garden-variety Mideast conflict or something, were far less popular with the readers than a page full of bits and brights.

You can see that humongous egos aren't reserved for TV types ...

So here's an exercise, editors, next time you are ready to put your paper to bed for the day: go through it, and ask yourself what it is you are offering your younger readers.

And try not to laugh when I suggest adding, not subtracting, a page of comics might be just the thing to start drawing younger folks into your product.

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)