"Save the Newspaper!" Anonymous challenged

Today an anonymous reader left a message on a previous post, “Newspapers Still Ain’t Gettin’ It”:

In 10 words or less please describe what necessary changes newspapers need to make in order to survive.

Sorry, Khanonymous. I can’t do that.

I can do it in eleven:

Decrease circulation
Varied publications
Target niches
Hyperlocal content

In other words:

Metro-dailies are too damn big, from the size of management to their insane and unreasonable budgetary goals. Dailies today have to reflect the market, which is highly fragmented and, in this economy, rightly believes that newspapers are not worth their time or money.

So DECREASE CIRCULATION and go to a less expensive format: TABLOID.

Make it free: 100% ADVERTISER-SUPPORTED.

The base newspaper should focus 90% on HYPERLOCAL issues and stories. People ALL get their national news from the Internet and TV. You can’t fight it any longer.

To make up your losses, create niche publications to reach the entire circulation area. TARGET your demographic NICHES: boomers, parents, dining, arts — focusing content on whatever topics your CBSA values. Since people no longer value newsprint (it’s considered “poor,” make your new publications glossy and “upscale.”

This things are nothing new; I’ve been saying them repeatedly. The problem is, traditional newspapermen don’t want to hear them. To hand out a free paper is against the rules. To give people what they want to read — instead of stories the editors think they NEED to read — is against the rules. To shove management greed aside in order to fix the things that are broken??? Harumph, harumph! That’s against the rules!

In case you haven’t noticed, the rules no longer apply. Newspapers are old news. Now they have to evolve to survive, and that means breaking the old rules and adapting to the new ones.

It means completely changing.

I saw a book at Barnes & Noble just today. This is the product description (I copied it from Amazon) which struck me as I read the flaps in the store, because it describes what has happened to every single one of our great metropolitan newspapers:

Decline can be avoided.

Decline can be detected.

Decline can be reversed.

Amidst the desolate landscape of fallen great companies, Jim Collins began to wonder: How do the mighty fall? Can decline be detected early and avoided? How far can a company fall before the path toward doom becomes inevitable and unshakable? How can companies reverse course?

In How the Mighty Fall, Collins confronts these questions, offering leaders the well-founded hope that they can learn how to stave off decline and, if they find themselves falling, reverse their course. Collins’ research project–more than four years in duration–uncovered five step-wise stages of decline:

Stage 1: Hubris Born of Success

Stage 2: Undisciplined Pursuit of More

Stage 3: Denial of Risk and Peril

Stage 4: Grasping for Salvation

Stage 5: Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death

By understanding these stages of decline, leaders can substantially reduce their chances of falling all the way to the bottom.

Great companies can stumble, badly, and recover.

Every institution, no matter how great, is vulnerable to decline. There is no law of nature that the most powerful will inevitably remain at the top. Anyone can fall and most eventually do. But, as Collins’ research emphasizes, some companies do indeed recover–in some cases, coming back even stronger–even after having crashed into the depths of Stage 4.

Decline, it turns out, is largely self-inflicted, and the path to recovery lies largely within our own hands. We are not imprisoned by our circumstances, our history, or even our staggering defeats along the way. As long as we never get entirely knocked out of the game, hope always remains. The mighty can fall, but they can often rise again.

The Times-Dispatch is in Stage 4. Will it inevitably go into Stage 5, or will it adapt and survive?

Here’s the book: How the Mighty Fall.

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