National Public Radio this morning (Monday) had a story on the Orange County Register’s strategy to avoid the problems – okay, failures – of many newspapers in the digital age. The arrival of new management at the paper was accompanied by a sense of optimism – and a willingness to look at the product from the eyes of a potential reader and advertiser.
Instead of following the advice of the bean-counters who have been advocating smaller workforces since the early nineties, the Register decided to make an investment in quality – with its focus on the old-fashioned print format instead of the internet. They hired about twenty-four new employees and gave the editor what he needs to make a newspaper that residents will want to read, There’s an online edition, of course, but print is the key,
I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the Register. The NPR report says there’s been a slight increase in subscribers, stopping the recent decline in readership, And it reports the presses are running full-time.
The idea of offering quality has been too-often ignored in the journalism business,
More and more newspapers such as the Juneau Empire are instead planning to begin to charge for on-line subscriptions without guaranteeing readers that the material behind that ticket window is worth the money. We now see anemic newsrooms in all media. Public Radio in Alaska, for example, several years ago declared there would be no expansion of news staff until some uncertain goal was met by advertising sales and engineering improvements. Personally, a new reporter was hired when I retired, but there are no additional reporters working any beat.
Reporters are also crushed with work demands that frequently do not allow them to take the basic steps needed to produce a good product. Because there are too few reporters, editors demand a minimum production quota – say two or three stories per day. Besides the primary format, they also require reporters to write web-page versions, Twitter those stories, post to Facebook pages and reply to consumer comments. Reporters are also photographers, videographers and even graphics designers. By this point, actually writing the second story is of no real importance.
The alternative too often is more wire content or quick rewrites of press releases.
The Register thinks the public will read a worthwhile newspaper – written by real, local reporters — that is delivered to their front door every day. And that businesses will want to advertise in a publication that people actually read.
They may be on to something. It’s at least worth watching how it develops.