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News & Insights

News & Insights

Necessity and Invention

Last week the Times-Picayune, one of the most respected newspapers in the world, acted like it did not want to “go gently into that good night” and become a footnote in Wikipedia. We have come to expect spineless fatalism in the newspaper business (when they are not bribing policemen or making up stories out of whole cloth) so this move is a stunning display of thought leadership from a medium most people are sure is on the brink of extinction.

Now, everyone knows there are challenges with ink on paper as a business model: the production process is dirty (ink is toxic, paper-making is a foul operation, and a massive amount of energy is used to print and distribute newspapers); content is increasingly devoid of investigative journalism or other noble journalistic pursuits; and the business model is twenty years out of date. But it worth remembering that there is nothing inherently “wrong” with the medium as a way to deliver information. Paper has, in fact, several advantages: it doesn’t short-circuit if it gets a little wet; it’s surprisingly portable; and it doesn’t require an energy source to read it.

So what happens when publishers really look at the print medium seriously and creatively, the way they have educated themselves on tablet and mobile apps? Well, no one really knows. Here are a few thoughts on what might happen if print were truly embraced:

  • Frequency: Whatever happened to “Extra, Extra, Read all about it!” anyway? Why not push the current model further and reserve weekends for long investigative pieces and tiny visually oriented editions for the daily commute?
  • Themed editions (Olympics, elections, micro-community editions, regional business topics — commercial space business in Northern VA, entertainment innovation in L.A., green energy in Houston)
  • Specialty papers (canoeing guides on water-proof laminated pages; imagery heavy mini-magazines; heavy % recycled paper for “green” audiences.
  • Creative trim sizes (pocket-sized, coffee table sized).
  • Content based on primary information: creatively displayed facts, not opinions; hyper-local interactive pieces that can actually build community awareness.

Newspapers and print media aren’t dead yet. And the collapse of the business model for certain types of print products might be an opportunity to finally separate the medium from the model thus freeing publishers up to focus on crafting compelling content. It wouldn’t be the first time New Orleans showed the world what creativity is all about.

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