Commentary

Lots of Money, Badly Spent

On the day that the newspaper industry launched a $50 million trade campaign asking 800 newspapers to "roadblock" consumers, I read three major newspapers and never saw or noticed the campaign. There is still hope, though, since the campaign is also slated to run--how ironic--online.

"This ad campaign makes the case for reappraisal of newspaper media in the print and online world. We're surprising advertisers with the truth in a nontraditional way," said Newspaper Association of America President and CEO John F. Sturm in a press release. NAA Senior Vice President and CMO John Kimball got even more bug-eyed, allegedly saying: "We're exploding the myth that newspapers are old school or static, and we are doing that with a combination of cold, hard facts from independent studies and edgy creative executions that speak to today's media buyers."

Nothing so smacks of desperation as a major trade association ad campaign. Look at the floating bathtubs perpetuated by the Magazine Publishers of America, and ask yourself if that silly effort shifted a nickel's worth of business away from other media, especially from online, where audiences have gone?

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The NAA campaign launches in the shadow of tumbling street valuations for newspaper companies and nearly daily announcements of newsroom cutbacks. Free classifieds are eating newspapers alive, and it is faster and easier to look up a movie start time online than it is to find the newspaper. Need we even get into the timeliness of online news, which can be updated by the minute, versus news that must close by 11 p.m. to get the presses rolling and the trucks moving?

Make no mistake about it; I love newspapers. But they need to chill out and start moving toward Newspaper 2.0. This is a not a newspaper that is tossed into your hedges at 5:30 a.m., with last night's news and static black-and-white ads, but rather one that is e-mailed or otherwise sent to your desktop at 5:30 a.m. so you can read it online or print it out for the commute (do NOT try this if you drive).

Rather than a random package of international, national, local, sports, and business news, this newspaper is customized to your exact specifications. Want no international news, but expanded coverage of high school sports? You got it. You want less business and more health and science? You got it. No two 2.0 newspapers will look exactly alike, (but they will only cost about .005 cents each to print and deliver.)

The news can be updated throughout the day, can break important local news like school closings--and, through syndicated content deals, can be linked to selected local bloggers who can enrich the paper's coverage.

The ads will be the best part. Not only will they NOW be interactive, they will reflect what you are actually in the market for at the moment. Renovating that tired kitchen? Want lots of local options on designs and contractors? Check that box each day, and your next day's paper will have a ton of ads you can't wait to read. Buying a car? Check the box and your local dealers will fill tomorrow's paper with information, links, and deals. Think advertisers will pay a premium for an in-market, hot lead? You bet!

Subscribers and their 2.0 newspapers will have a covenant. You can customize your news, if you tell them what you are thinking of buying, so the ads will be as relevant as the content. Win-win, no doubt. What newspapers will do with all those unionized pressmen and truckers is beyond me. Teach them Atlas?

Various reporting scandals aside, newspapers have built a strong legacy of trust with readers. And in a world where you can't be sure if a blogger is on the take from Wal-Mart's PR firm, it is reassuring to know there are still professional journalists covering your local area who know how to report who, what, when, where, and how.

You can spare me the man riding a rooster, the Founding Fathers floating in a basket, flying elephants, and talking fish. Just get your head around Newspaper 2.0.

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