The American Press Institute announced today a major year-long project to invent and test new business models to help newspapers thrive in the next decade. It's called "Newspaper Next: The Transformation Project."
-- Editor & Publisher news item,
following months of reports about
declining daily newspaper circulation,
Nov. 14, 2005
Letter From the Publisher
The newspaper you hold in your hands has gone through what these days would be called an extreme makeover. For starters, our pages are now lined in suede. Consumer research has shown us that you appreciate newspapers as physical objects. Hence the new velvety texture, designed to enhance your tactile pleasure and cause you to bond with us, possibly even leading you to stroke the pages resting in your lap.
Our changes will bring you exactly the sort of innovation you have every right to expect from us. First up in our transformation: We're going to stop putting out an edition on Wednesdays. If the focus groups we wired with electrodes have taught us any lesson at all, it's that by midweek most readers need a break. So goodbye, Wednesdays. We've also borrowed a proven selling technique from local television news, with our front-page blaring a "teaser" for the latest scoop. Today you may have noticed our 36-point Bodoni tease above the masthead: "Guess which veteran member of Congress insulted the entire Muslim population? See page 3!"
You may well wonder why an award-winning paper like ours is bothering to transform itself at all. Three words: Demographics, demographics, demographics. More than ever, the under-35 urban professional sees newspapers as best suited for origami contests. The average age of our subscribers is approximately posthumous. We've projected that by 2010 this newspaper will have precisely 26 readers, all of whom will require large-print editions, not to mention home attendants to help turn the pages.
But before we changed, we did our homework. We held late-night staff brainstorming sessions in disreputable bars. We took telephone surveys that interrupted your dinner. We conducted studies of the neural pathways in the brain that govern the impulse to look at the classifieds. Throughout, we rigorously prevented any of our hard-earned gut instincts about the practice of journalism from tainting the process.
Now we've refreshed our strategies to adapt to these brave new times. For instance, we take seriously a poll of subscribers showing that 89.2 percent agreed with the statement "Rafael Palmeiro's statements about steroids are more credible than the reporting in my newspaper." Accordingly, we have established a section purely for fiction, called "Too Good to Check." Reporters inclined toward fabrication are now free to invent characters and dialogue across all genres seen in journalism, including fairy tales.
We also have overhauled our political coverage, heeding your conviction that politics is the same as sports, except with a bigger vocabulary. Every day we'll post a box score that shows whether Democrats or Republicans are winning. You'll get a chance to see how your home team fared that day, thanks to a rating system based largely on Larry King appearances, campaign chest size and hairstyle. We're also acknowledging your complaints about political reporting that's rife with ideological bias. From now on, in the interest of being literally bipartisan, our political news will appear on directly opposing pages, the left-hand side giving a liberal interpretation, the right a conservative one.
We'll also treat our advertisers much better than before. After all, newspapers are a business -- and as such, deserve to profit, preferably a lot, even if it's at your expense. To extend the reach of our patrons and avoid charging you more for the paper, we're opening our editorial pages to product placement. Op-eds, editorials and columns will now be studded with random brand mentions, primarily of luxury goods favored by high-end subscribers so desirable to sponsors. No longer will editorials end with statements like, "Only time will tell." Now they will say, "Only time, accurately kept by Rolex, will tell."
We're exploring other far-ranging (Microsoft-style) upgrades as well -- everything from home-delivered editions personally monogrammed (by L.L. Bean) to skin-toned ink that comes off on your fingertips so that female subscribers can reuse it as makeup. We may also experiment with publishing obituaries of people you merely wish would die. But we've kept to our usual high standards. Nobody, for example, felt ready to approve a Sunday magazine for new immigrants written entirely in broken English.
Always, no matter the circumstances, our top priority is you, our loyal reader, but only, of course, right after we answer to the multimedia conglomerate that owns us and really cares more about revenues from its movie studios anyway. Never, ever, forget that we hold dear our duty to democracy itself -- and to delivering you the news just as you deserve it. Legible. Uncreased. With commas in just the right places. And above all, pages consecutively numbered.
Bob Brody is a public relations executive in New York City. As a writer, he has contributed unstintingly to the declining popularity of newspapers for the last 30 years.