Sunday, June 21, 2009

Where newspapers are more than just news

     Speaking of culture shock (OK, so we weren’t, but maybe we should), I arrived in Melbourne on Sunday to be greeted by the Sunday Age, Rupert Murdoch’s original newspaper, which boasted it’s 52-page special Games section with pages of Sudoku, several variations of it, crosswords, word and math puzzles, and logic puzzles.

     With only two and a half pages of the 52-page section devoted to advertising, it was a throwback to the ages when newspapers really wanted readers. Again, maybe American newspaper publishers will look at what works in the rest of the world, and what worked for so long in America, and go after readers.  The key in building American newspaper readers was to give them much more than just news. Sure, newspapers a hundred years ago were news-oriented, but that was the era when comics, columns, and even fiction was used to bring in readers only marginally interested in news.

     I used to get so annoyed trying to get the old Journal management to go after readers instead of having advertising drive every decision. I felt that once we had readers, advertisers would follow.  Strong readership should translate into advertising.

     What’s annoying is that this is the formula that built that strong readership for American newspapers, but they’ve spent the last forty years ignoring readers using the mantra “advertisers” want this or that. Murdoch understands that advertisers want sales, and strong readership brings sales for advertisers. His newspapers are making lots of money. How many American newspapers can claim the same?

      Earlier this month, I spent two weeks in Italy reading Italian newspapers, all of which were filled with features aimed at readers – and advertising. Now I’m in Australia where the formula is followed. It makes me sick to see that American newspapers have apparently decided online – and news instead of entertainment – is the only way to go. Not necessarily.