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Readers Aren't So Sure Newspapers Can Survive

I want to thank one and all who contacted me the past few days for at least being decent and honest in relaying their assessment that I am bonkers for my continued support of newspapers, and my strong advice Friday that they avoid the Internet and embrace print as much as possible to survive.

I can take the criticism, and even expected it. Weren't some of the greatest thinkers of all time pilloried for their unpopular musings? OK, right, I'll stop right there.

Thing is, after yet more thought on the subject through a long weekend, I am more convinced than ever that I have most of this right. Me?! Stubborn?!

Newspapers simply have to engage new generations of print readers to survive. Full speed ahead toward the Internet really is a quick way to the grave.

And a quick qualifier: Any newspaper could shed about 80 percent of its staff, move online for good as a shadow of itself, maybe even make a profit and call that survival. But that is not what I am talking about.

I am talking about a robust print product that engages younger readers and still fulfills its mission as the community watchdog. I am talking about newspapers using the Internet to inform and update, but more importantly, to drive people to their print product.

I am not saying for sure that newspapers can accomplish what some have told me is impossible. I am saying, however, that if they don't, they are through. There simply isn't close to enough revenue being brought in online for newspapers to remain at all viable.

Picking up pennies from some yet unknown metered, pay approach for their news on the Internet will never replace the big money newspapers reap from display advertising on their printed pages. Newspapers do not have a niche on the Internet, they do in print. They must embrace the niche.

Further, older generations of readers are finding their way onto what's left of the obituary pages and are not being replaced.

Embracing print is not an option for survival, then, it is the only option.

I also want to congratulate the many community newspapers across the fruited plain that did not need my ranting to embrace this message, and in fact are fulfilling their proper function as pillars of their respective communities. In the future, I hope to bring you their stories of fortitude and common sense.

Not surprisingly, many (maybe even, most) people I heard from over the past few days were at least 35 years of age. I know this because I know many of them.

While a few of them were nice enough to concede I might have a point and am not completely off my rocker, the vast majority did not fancy newspapers' chances in the future.

I know for a fact that some of these people are employed by a newspaper, or worked in the industry before abandoning it head first. This is disheartening, sure, but it makes newspapers' one and only option for survival no less a fact.

*Some argued that newspapers had become irrelevant, and the Internet was their only hope for some sort of sustainability.
*Some thought that because of newsroom layoffs, newspapers had started to become a comedy of errors and not worth the money.
*Some thought that delivery of the papers themselves had become shoddy and undependable (landing in bushes, in other people's yards, or never landing anywhere at all).
*Some thought I missed the funeral, and live in ridiculous denial.

Almost all said they were satisfied with the news that they read at work on the Internet. OK, the 'at work' part I made up, but let's face it, right?

So once again (before I close this subject for the time being, and yer welcome) newspapers MUST:

... engage the younger generation. Go to their schools, their ball games and any and all youth activities. Show them what a newspaper can do. Hire them whenever they can. This is called planting the seed for future growth.
... explain to readers that like the fire department, police department, city hall, ice cream vendor, etc., etc., etc., a newspaper is a vital part of any thriving community.
... explain to them that if nobody is covering city hall and questioning power, they are, in fact, rendering themselves powerless.
... explain to one and all the tremendous value of a newspaper. For instance: Did you know that by regularly using just the grocery-store coupons in your newspaper each week, you are actually making money by subscribing to the paper? (Go ahead, think that one through for a minute.)
... get off their addiction to stuffing their pages with old, irrelevant world and national news unless it can be localized for their readers. Make sure that all Page 1 news and the majority of news throughout the paper is about and for their readers.
... market the fact that they are the readers' advocate in the community.
... not wait another second to hit the pavement, and engage potential readers.

We'll check back in on this subject from time to time to see what newspapers are quitters, and what newspapers are winners.

Finally, and I apologize, this arrived from a pro-newspaper guy in Taiwan with a lot of time on his hands, but a sense of humor I can appreciate. Do not shoot the messenger, please.

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