Monday, February 27, 2012

And Now, The End is Near.

Larry Platt announced that the Daily News and Inquirer officially begin sharing content today. Sports, news and other stories/ photos/ graphics/ art you see in one paper may wind up in the other.

Of course, this has been happening now for a while. The two newspapers, which are owned by the same company, merged their photo staffs about a year ago. Images you see in the Inquirer have been winding up in the Daily News, and vice versa.

From a journalistic standpoint, this is concerning. Competition drives people to work harder, to uncover more and to just plain be more aggressive.

From a business standpoint, this is outright stupid. Rather than have two competing papers - serving two differing audiences, with different content and different identities - we now have one news operation trying to serve a geographic region that runs from Atlantic City to Harrisburg, from Trenton to Dover. They can't cover that comprehensively, even with the merged staffs.

Thus, the operation will merely offer the facade of documenting the region. Communities will be ignored except when bad stuff happens. Readers will not feel a connection to the papers as they aren't represented in those pages. They'll quit buying them, and maybe opt for a local alternative or nothing at all.

Worse, this massively opens the door for the New York Times to sweep in and absorb the rest of the reading public (especially the wealthy and educated) in the region. Good for the Times but who will document the Greater Philadelphia region?

Not only is the merging of the Daily News and Inquirer staffs the beginning of the end of the Daily News, it is likely the death knell for both newspapers. They have sufficiently rendered themselves obsolete.

And that is so sad.

It's not too late! Rather than spiral downward, here are my suggestions:

1. Identify your audiences. The Daily News, for instance, was the city paper, speaking to the blue collar workers and interested parties. There is a niche that can be capitalized upon. The proposed direction is far too broad. Figure out who you want to reach and what content they need/ want.

2. Make the Inquirer and Daily News massively different, top to bottom. Then, you have two distinct products that you can sell and different markets you can reach.

3. Don't put everything from the newspapers online. Only post teasers, breaking news, updates and multimedia stuff. Make people want to buy the papers, especially if that is your primary revenue source. Recognize the strengths of the Internet and use it accordingly (otherwise, why be in print at all?).

4. Recognize that journalism matters. Competition isn't "needless duplication." Competition is the catalyst behind good reporting, better art, innovation, creativity, etc. Competition should force staff to think, "What can we do differently from the other guys?" Competition should force you to think, "How can the newspaper story be different from the online content?"

Frankly, calling it "needless duplication" is a cop out. It's hedge fund speak for, "We're eliminating jobs because the profit margins aren't high enough."

And the fact that Larry Platt (seen above in images from Gawker) announces these changes as though he's doing the public a favor? I've lost any respect I ever had for the man.

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