My Plan To Save Newspapers

By on November 14, 2012

My Plan To Save Newspapers
Okay, it looks like printed newspapers are in trouble. The industry needs a hero, a saviour, a visionary. So, when I decided to write this blog, I realised I was going to have to speak to the top people in the industry. First, I thought Rupert Murdoch might be able to give me some answers, what with having his own media empire and all, so I left a message on my own voicemail and waited for a response, but all I got from him was this tweet. Failing that, I tried to track down Paul Dacre. As the editor of the UK’s most successful newspaper, he must have something useful to say, right? So I went round to his house, but found him in the back garden devouring a live foal in one go, so decided to leave him to.

Clearly someone needs to step up, and even more clearly, that someone is me. So here are my ideas to save the newspaper industry:

Find A Narrower Market Niche
Remember the olden days, when there were only four and a half TV channels, a handful of newspapers and maybe, like, three websites you could read? Back then being a media outlet came with a certain amount of prestige. If someone you knew had got onto the telly, it was because they had done something worthwhile, like sit in a bath of beans for charity, rather than something degrading like have sex in a bath of beans in the Big Brother House.

Newspapers to, had an enormous amount of prestige. These were, after all, our windows into the world. Events were divided into things that appeared in the paper, or “news” and everything else, or “stuff nobody cared anyway”.

Good times my friend, good times.

Then the Internet exploded, and anyone with a modem and Internet connection could set up a media outlet, while on television it was suddenly possible to watch the news on three different channels 24 hours a day, simultaneously.

And as for giving people a window on what was happening the world, suddenly journalists were running to keep up with Twitter, either struggling to find something to say about the London riots that we didn’t already watch as it happened, or crudely tiptoeing around the super injunctioned details of Ryan Giggs’ sex life that everyone had already heard all the jokes about.

The sad truth is that the age of the newspaper as the monolithic nation’s town crier is over. Instead newspapers will need to get a clearer idea of who their market is and target their content around that. We’ve already seen this done to some extent with The Daily Mail, who are now targeting most of their content at liberals who enjoy spitting blood with rage.

In the near future we’re going to see newspapers becoming more fragmented, and more specialised, so that eventually everyone will have a publication ideally suited to their own narrow interests.

The Fatal Flaw
Are you familiar with something called Rule 34? No! Don’t look it up. Needless to say, the Internet is already pretty good at catering to pretty much any niche you could think of.

Build A Community
It’s not enough for newspapers to simply appeal to niche. You need your market to actually feel a loyalty towards you. One of the jobs print newspapers were always very good that was instantly telling everyone on the bus your class background, education and political allegiance. As Jim Hacker MP of Yes, Minister fame once said: “The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.”

But these days you just see a bunch of people reading their Kindles or iPhones, and that doesn’t tell you anything. The Internet has already started moving in to fill this gap. For instance, I have spend hours carefully selecting which Twitter accounts I follow so that I never have to come into contact with an opinion I disagree with again.

Still, once I step out into meat space, I’m surrounded by people who, for all I know, don’t even vote the same way I do. This is where newspapers can fight back. It’s already started with apps such as Facebook’s Guardian application, that automatically tells every single one of your friends which newspaper articles you’re reading and when. Soon, with the advent of Google’s Project Glass, we’ll all be wearing augmented reality glasses that can tap into all our social networks. So when you’re reading an article on the Daily Mail, a Daily Mail logo can appear over your head like a sign post, so that everyone else will know who to sit near on the bus!

The Fatal Flaw: We can be pretty sure that next year the only thing anyone will read on the bus is J K Rowling’s new book on Kindle. Because this one’s going to be for adults you know!

The Lysine Contingency
First devised by the architects of Jurassic Park, this plan would involve genetically engineering the next generation to be unable to produce the crucial amino acid “Lysine”, then making newspapers so that they secrete lysine. Therefore people would be forced to buy newspapers or they would die.

The Fatal Flaw: Aside from the fact that the movie ended with dinosaurs eating everybody, it turns out that most animals, including humans, don’t produce lysine anyway. Fortunately it can be found in quite a lot of different food sources. Unfortunately this will make it harder to create a chemical dependence on newspapers.

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Chris Farnell is a freelance writer whose interests include media and jobs in print newspapers.

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