Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Newspapers Still Matter

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Newspapers Still Matter

Article excerpt

THE Pennsylvania Railroad got into trouble because it thought it was in the railroad business rather than the transportation business: This is a new truism of management consultants helping organizations get a better bead on what their enduring purpose is and find new ways to fulfill it.

The newspaper industry is joining in on some of this soul-searching. Profits have been very good, but newspaper reading seems less a fixed habit within our communities than was once the case.

Recession has trimmed advertising revenues, and thus the papers themselves and their staffs. Publishers worry that ad revenues lost during the current cyclical downturn may be lost forever, as advertisers turn to other media.

And so newspapers are feeling a need to reach out to readers in ways they haven't done before; papers are becoming more "market-driven," as the expression goes. This is a horrifying thought to some. After all, newspapers have granted themselves a luxury undreamed of by purveyors of most other consumer products: Newspapers presume to publish what they think their readers should be interested in.

Being market-driven may mean presenting the same material but doing it so as to make it easier for the busy reader - not necessarily the same thing as "dumbing down" the news. In the past two years, with dramatic unfoldments in Eastern Europe, in South Africa, and now the Middle East, newspapers have had great opportunities to present their readers with engaging stories, recounting events and giving them context.

By educating readers to care about different parts of the world, newspapers will create a market for more information on these places. As events unfold in the Middle East, newspapers have an opportunity to educate the public in a part of the world of which they have long been ignorant; such an educated public can be a valuable ingredient in the creation of a lasting piece in the region.

One wonders, though, whether, aside from these epic developments that capture the imagination, there is a fundamental disconnect between the news universe of the reader - or would-be or should-be reader - and the newspaper. If some ethnic groups read general-interest newspapers less, is that a reflection on them and their public-spiritedness - or on publishers' inability to see new population groups as new customers to be served? …

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