Overheard about newspapers

Over the Fourth of July weekend I was at a cookout at my parents house back in Ohio. Somehow the conversation turned to newspapers (I was tending the grill and not guiding or poisoning the discussion with my knowledge or views). I was fascinated to hear a bunch of Baby Boomers discuss what they liked and didn’t like about the newspaper.

Here are a few of the subtopics they discussed about newspapers:

  • I’ve read it all the night before — It isn’t uncommon to hear this, but I increasingly hear it from Baby Boomers and older generations. That’s not good. That’s newspaper lifeline right now. If they’re reading all of their news online and not interested in printed newspapers, who is?
  • They don’t even try to sell you on the journalism anymore — The newspapers out here — and I suspect many others — try to sell people on coupons, not the journalism. “Instead of, you’ll be educated and up-to-date on X, Y, Z,” it’s “you can save on X, Y, Z.” The people I overheard seemed to think this meant that even newspapers know they don’t have the journalism to justify a print subscription anymore. It seems defeatist to me. This approach doesn’t work with a lot of readers, especially those who aren’t big coupon cutters. When I canceled my Washington Post subscription, this was something they tried to keep me with. I subscribe to journalism for the journalism. There are plenty of ways for me to get coupons besides in a newspaper.
  • I prefer the feel of a real newspaper — This was a sentiment shared by several at the cookout. People still like the look and feel of the printed page. They don’t like, however, reading the same news they already know about. To me, this means that printed newspaper moving forward will have to be more than just a rehash of old news. I’ve long advocated for a weekly newspaper in the mold of The Economist. Take the long view. Provide analysis. Be a supplement to online journalism. On the look and feel front, I and many other prefer the look and feel of news websites on the iPad to that on a laptop or desktop computer. I wonder what many of these people would think about the experience of tapping, swiping and interacting with a news website. The iPad is a fantastic news device, especially when combined with Reeder and Instapaper.