The American newspaper is dead, and we just need to start figuring out what replaces it. We need to start figuring out what keeps quality journalism alive.
I don't have any empirical data telling me the newspaper is dead, dead, dead. I do, though, have a nose that can smell a rotting corpse.
And when this (see right) is the best a major metro newspaper can come up with for a redesign, the parrot has expired.
Of course, the people who have gotten newspapers into their present state of repose would just have us believe that institutions like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution aren't dead, they're just pining for the fjords.
THE EDITOR of the Journal-Constitution, Julia Wallace, is one of those trying to convince us her newspaper is not an ex-parrot:
Nearly two years ago, we set out to chart a course for the future. As information habits changed and more of our print audience shifted to the Internet, we knew the status quo was not an option. A struggling economy only added to the challenge before us.WE TALKED to thousands of readers. (We're blaming it on our audience research.)
We thought the best answers would come from our readers. We talked to thousands of them. They guided us to the new product you’re holding in your hands today.
This daily newspaper is one designed for newspaper readers. For years our industry has chased those elusive nonreaders. Our market research led us down a different path. What we’d have to do to win over those nonreaders risked driving away our core readers. We believe we can thrive by increasing the satisfaction of those who already engage with us regularly. So . . . you see a newspaper that looks and reads very much like a newspaper.
We’ve invested millions in press upgrades, more color and a more newsy, sophisticated look. We hired an award-winning design firm, Lacava Design, from Montreal to help us create a newspaper that is easy to use and filled with information.
Also along the way, we found ways to do things more efficiently. Our reader feedback proved valuable when economic necessities forced us to scale back plans and coverage. It was our readers who helped us set priorities for what to keep and what could be sacrificed.
We hired an award-winning design firm. (We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for this turkey. After all, nothing says "In touch with north Georgia like designers from Montreal." I'll bet the TV listings have the late news coming on at 2300h.)
We adopted a more newsy, sophisticated look. (We laid off all our photographers.)
Ladies and gentlemen, this newspaper is bleedin' demised!
This paper, and others just like it, are bleedin' demised because editors and publishers didn't see the handwriting on the wall two decades ago and start looking for a new way forward. Since, classifieds have disappeared into a black hole called Craigslist, readers have abandoned print at warp speed for various Internet offerings and The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on Comedy Central -- Comedy Central! -- are where smart political commentary and sharp writing have gone to hide out.
NEWSPAPERS, on the other hand, are where the corncob suppositories at least keep the grim reaper alert for the next spate of layoffs.
The Daily Blab isn't dying because it didn't do enough readership surveys and tracking of how members of focus groups say they use the newspaper. The Daily Blab is "pinin' for the fjords" because of the one thing editors and publishers have forgotten: Imagination.
They couldn't imagine a future different from the printed past. They couldn't imagine, amid their MBA armies of men uniformed blue suits and red ties, that newspapering -- indeed, journalism -- is just as much artform as it is science.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution front page you see is the result of research and science. It reflects none of the passion, art and creativity involved in bringing the news to one's neighbors . . . every day.
The news is an ongoing conversation -- one cooked up with equal parts yelling, reasoned argument, compassion, "just the facts, ma'am," fire in the belly, smartassery, sobriety and a good belly laugh. What you see here is a research report.
It's what everybody said they wanted in a newspaper. Only lifeless. And the Internet Revolution will proceed apace. Without newspapers.
YOU WANT TO KNOW what really gave me that gut feeling of doom? The moment I noticed the dead parrot had been nailed to his perch by the pet-shop
It was this, published today in Adweek:
At a time when newspapers are in a fight for survival in the Internet era, one is fighting back with an ad campaign that positions the paper as a chance to escape the tyranny of digital devices in everyday life.I GET A MENTAL IMAGE of buggy-whip makers putting up billboards saying "Horseless carriages are noisy, and shoveling manure is good for you."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has rolled out a new "Unplug. It's Sunday" campaign to promote the old-school Sunday newspaper as a refuge from the constant buzzing and beeping of smart phones, instant messages and e-mail that marks the modern workweek. The campaign, which runs until the end of the year, coincides with a recent redesign of the paper.
The Cox Enterprises paper is ironically turning to a digital agency to make the case for print.
The campaign, which costs over $1 million, is designed, in part, to reach readers of the AJC who don't get the paper on the Sunday, said Amy Chown, vp of marketing. It isn't meant to replace their Web use with the paper, she added.
"This is not an anti-Internet campaign," Chown said. "It’s not that we don’t want them to read us online. We wanted to balance the use of AJC.com during the week with the paper on Sunday."
"It's about how to reposition the newspaper," said Tony Quin, CEO of IQ Interactive, the independent Atlanta digital shop that created the campaign. "We came up with the idea as a counterpoint to the digital cacophony that exists in everyone's lives. Sunday is the day to relax and do something different than you do the rest of the week."
Besides, the Journal-Constitution ad campaign does too undermine its digital product. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
The ink-stained wretches in Atlanta could have saved themselves a lot of money and embarrassment. Before launching such a pointless and stupid campaign, they could have done one more bit of audience research.
They could have tried to pry a cellphone out of a teen-ager's hand and see what happened.
No, this is an ex-newspaper.