Survival in the newspaper business: rethinking mass culture

by Yule Heibel on November 16, 2007

Terrific post by CEOs for Cities, Rethinking Mass Culture:

“If the average reading level is eighth grade, in a mass-culture model you want to write to that level and hope you capture the largest demographic segment. And you hope that those below the level will give you a chance. In fact, you aggressively court this group by trying to prove your accessibility. As for the group reading above the level: your strategy for success is “where else are they going to go?” Your paper is probably the only/best/major source of news in your community.”Newspapers have not traditionally been mass market. In fact they were the classic niche subsidy model. The genius of newspapers was that they aggregated lots of mini-content – comics, bridge columns, stock tables, crossword puzzles, the arts, business, sports – and built enough of a combined audience to subsidize the content that otherwise would not have paid for itself.

“…the fact is that the content that journalists think counts most – coverage of city hall, foreign reporting, investigations – does not have a big enough audience to pay for itself on its own.

“Yet somewhere along the way, this idea of niche aggregation slipped away from the local paper and was replaced by the sense that every story ought to be comprehensible by every reader. The problem: in a culture that increasingly offers more and more choice and allows people to get more precisely what they want, when they want, and how they want it, a generalized product that doesn’t specifically satisfy anyone finds its audience erode away. The more general, the more broad, the more “mass culture” a newspaper tries to become, the faster its readers look elsewhere.

“The very things you see newspapers doing to try to bring in new readers… are the things that while they might have worked 20 years ago, don’t today. That’s because the celebutantes get better dish at TMZ and the Live at 5 guys do better fire and missing kids.”

Read the full post here.

And if you are interested in arts news, you can’t do better than ArtsJournal for news and the array of blogs sponsored by ArtsJournal.

More later, and on other topics, too, but I’m in a total rush right now. Just for now, on the newspaper topic, though: DO, if you’re in that business, PLEASE do consider what Invisible Inkling has to say in 10 Obvious Things About the Future of Newspapers You Need to Get Through Your Head… Really, read it. Great stuff.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ryan November 18, 2007 at 9:53 pm

Thanks for the plug. The ArtsJournal piece linked to in the CEOs for Cities post is great – I think celebrity news is a red herring in the industry at the moment, but the important thing for newpapers to consider is the complete unbundling of media, and thus, the unbundling of secondary purposes readers had for buying the print edition in the first place.

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