Clearing my email this morning after a week away on vacation — during which I managed for the first time in 11 years to stay off the Internet (well, except for my 2-year-old non-smartphone’s minimal connectivity) — I found a link to an Editor & Publisher article about how to increase the number of young people who subscribe to a newspaper. There are some good nuggets from the two contributors in that article, but I remain skeptical that many newspapers are geared for this effort, for the simple reason that when push comes to shove, they are still putting out print products aimed at an audience that doesn’t watch TV or read anything on the Internet. Last week’s massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., provided the latest, but surely not last, major example. I woke on vacation, checked my phone and found a Washington Post news alert sent overnight about the shootings. We turned on CNN and watched coverage for several hours, until it seemed that little new detail was likely to come out soon, and then turned it off and went about our vacation day. The next morning I went out and bought a newspaper — a major regional newspaper based in a metropolitan area. The shooting coverage was the centerpiece, the top headline, and took up the majority of the page — and there was NOT ONE SINGLE WORD on the front page that told me anything I had not heard on TV before noon the previous day. Turning inside, there was a sidebar of new information — new to me, at least, who had not been watching TV or reading the Internet since before noon. The experience angered me, both as a reader who expected better and as an editor.
My patience with newspapers was tried again when we returned home to find that our newspaper carrier had either not gotten word of our “vacation stop” or had ignored it and continued to deliver our paper. Why does anyone want to pay to have a daily alert to burglars piled up by the front door?
Older readers who are already newspaper junkies may brush these off and keep their subscriptions, but a combination of spotty service and old news is no way to win new readers.