Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Article excerpt

EDITORS, WAKE UP!

For newspapers, circulation isn't everything - it's the only thing

The six-month newspaper circulation reports were revealed a couple of weeks ago. The reports are gloomy -- again. The numbers reflect an industrywide failure -- again. And nobody knows why -- again.

Some newspapers suffered stunning decreases. Many executives reacted with shock and dismay, grasping for reasons for the lackluster numbers.

Well, the reason for the decline is simple: Newspapers are boring and lifeless, and readers are reacting by closing their pocketbooks.

Most of today's newspaper editors have little or no effective news judgment. Newspapers are filled with stories editors believe readers should be interested in -- instead of stories that people want. Collectively, readers are a lot smarter than any editor.

For some reason, newspaper editors believe enterprise stories on some convoluted issue will save the newspaper industry. They won't. Readers would rather read breaking news. They want stories that make them gasp.

How do I know? The reasons can be found in the daily circulation report.

Editors must step out of the box of their personal preferences and analyze these reports. An effective editor will meet with the circulation director daily -- in fact, the circulation director should attend the daily news meeting.

Editors must use the circulation numbers as guides to making decisions. The most objective measure of reader interest is circulation -- not readership surveys, focus groups, or a couple of phone calls. Readers vote with their wallets. Nothing else.

For some reason, newspaper editors would rather run stories that win industry accolades. Newspaper executives brag about awards. You must be struggling if you don't win them. If you don't have a large trophy case filled with honors, you must be mediocre. Conversely, you must be great if you have won several awards. That's absurd. Awards are subjective. An award only means a handful of judges -- who likely live outside the newspaper's market -- are impressed. The readers may not be. Rising circulation is the ultimate prize.

An effective newspaper will reflect what the readers want. The editor must let the readers determine what they want. If an editor is unable to improve circulation in one year, he should be considered a failure. He should be fired.

Yet it seems that seeking larger sales is taboo. It's sensationalism. It's bad to run stories "only to sell newspapers." I guess we shouldn't be selling papers! How about we make it boring enough so nobody will read it? …

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