The PD Goes PT

Earlier this week the Cleveland Plain Dealer announced some significant changes in its operations.

IMG_2838The PD will still print a newspaper seven days a week and make it available at newsstands and other outlets, but home delivery will be limited to three days a week, one of which will be Sunday.  A new, digitally focused company will be formed, and the content for the print edition will be used on the digital platform.  If you subscribe for the three-day delivery deal, you will also receive access to a seven-day digital news website.  In addition, reports say that about a third of the newspaper’s reporters, as well as members of management, will be laid off.

We’ll have to see how this works, but my guess is that a three-day home delivery schedule won’t last long.  People who want to read a daily newspaper in paper form will want to do so every day.  For them, it’s part of the daily routine, not something they choose to do only on, say, Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday.  If their newspaper won’t deliver every day, my guess is that they won’t drive to the nearest convenience store to pick up a copy — they’ll either try to find a newspaper that does deliver every day or they will do without every day.

The layoff of a big chunk of the editorial staff also tells you something about electronic news sources.  They just aren’t as robust in the news gathering, and crucial editing and fact-checking, functions as a printed daily newspaper will be.  People who read news digitally don’t look at the entire content and say — as a daily newspaper subscriber will — that the size of the newspaper has really shrunk.  The digital subscriber will go to the website for a few stories, but not the deep dive a daily reader often takes.  The inevitable result is less content, and less coverage of the smaller stories that often are the most important.

The newspaper business is changing.  Those who want to see what the future will bring would do well to keep their eye on the PD‘s big experiment.

Daily No More

By the year after next, don’t expect to see a daily newspaper hitting your doorstep each morning — according to the Nieman Journalism Lab, that is.

The Nieman Journalism Lab looks to future trends in journalism.  Last month, it predicted that the seven-day print newspaper is doomed.  It forecasts that newspapers increasingly will focus on digital publication and that by 2015 less than half of current newspapers will follow the seven-day, home delivery model.  Instead, print newspapers will be reduced to a two or three times a week vestigial option, offered as part of a much broader set of services and benefits available to “members.”

And rather than those irritating paywalls, the digital membership model would be like membership in your local public TV station,  giving you complete access and providing discounts and other benefits (presumably not just the tote bags and coffee mugs you see on every PBS fundraiser, either).  The membership model would allow the newspaper to act as a kind of mini-Google, collecting information about the news stories you access and then delivering targeted advertising based upon your reading pattern — advertising that retailers presumably would pay a premium for, because it is more likely to find a receptive audience than the tire ad on page C-7 of the sports section of your daily newspaper.

The most interesting prediction is that newspapers will focus less on news and more on “jobs to be done.”  The jobs would include reporting news, but also assisting members in making connections to services and groups in their communities, giving recommendations and answering questions, and helping members meet the right people in the right settings.  It sounds something like a combination of Emily’s List and Dear Abby.

I agree that the daily printed newspaper model cannot survive forever; it’s simply too slow, and expensive, to compete with digital delivery of the news.  Readership and ad revenues are ever-declining, too.  I’m a bit skeptical, however, that daily newspapers can successfully morph into quasi-social networking sites and then hold their own in that area, where there also is a lot of competition.  What newspapers do, better than anyone else, is find and report hard news — not opinion, nor advice, but actual facts about events and issues that should be of concern to members of their communities.  If newspapers move away from that area of strength to some more amorphous, soft-side model, they may be losing their identities and digging their own graves.

Is there still a market for hard news — without tote bags, membership benefits, and social networking gloss?  We’ll find out over the next few years.