NOT DEAD YET: Print can gain by listening to readers
Friday, November 8, 2013
Posted by: Laura Sellers-Earl
By Matt Holden
Ball State University APME Coverage Team
Newspapers should strive for an emotional connection with
readers to thrive in the years ahead, according to a consultant with a national
Bill Day, executive director of Frank N. Magid Associates,
Inc., spoke to editors at the annual APME conference in Indianapolis on
Tuesday (Oct. 29). He said his studies show that 40 percent of people still read
newspapers and that the industry needs to leverage what is left of circulation
to build for the future. Day said television news is successful because they do
a better job of listening to what viewers want.
"The most important reason people pick ABC versus NBC versus
CBS isn’t because they think they’re very good. It’s not because they need to
know the weather. Yet why do viewers still watch their local television news?
It’s because they have a strong, visceral relationship with the product.”
If newspapers did more of what readers wanted, sales would
go up. On his list of things to do:
• Provide even more depth to its news stories
• More about local activities and things to do
• More local coverage in the main section
• Give them
opinions they want to read
"You know who people think is doing a really good job?”
asked Day. "Judge Judy. What job are consumers hiring her to do? To look in on
others amazingly train-wrecked lives and say my life’s not that bad.” Judge
Judy delivers on expectation, Day said, and the show makes $78 million
Day says his company’s studies find similar responses across
"We do this same study in market after market, and the
results are amazingly consistent,” he said.
He called on newspapers to make "data-driven” choices about
what goes into the paper. He said newspapers often make the mistake of using
data derived from a small percentage of readers; those who are the most vocal.
Day claimed his goal was to not only look at those who felt
strongly one way or the other about how a newspaper was doing, he also wanted
to look at the all of the people who were undecided in order to get a real
sense of what the entire market looked like.
"We don’t want find people who are excited, we want to find
everyone else,” said Day.
The theme of the session was to focus primarily on the print
product and how to extend its life, because Magid’s research showed that 40
percent of all demographics are still reading the paper.
The consistent example used throughout was that of the soda
industry. "When people like the soda you make, you need to tell them you have
it and keep making it,” said Day.
This was especially true when it came to small-market
papers, where readers in his study said that they wanted more local content,
such as high school and collegiate sports as well as local lifestyle. Small-market
papers have an advantage because of the lack of options available. Sixty-one
percent of people polled in small markets said that it would be a huge loss if
the paper in their area were to disappear.
Justin Rumbach, managing editor of the Dubois County Herald
in Jasper, is also seeing this at his paper. "I think that we don’t see the
decline nearly as rapidly as the big metro papers because we still reach a huge
portion of our community with our print product,” said Rumbach.
Day also looked at other media industries, such as
television news, and their approach to marketing.
"Television news shows have a relentless goal of moving the
needle (of viewers) to evaluate success,” said Day.
Using this example, he said newspapers should consider
evaluating reporters based on how much traffic their stories get, and using
this information to guide budget meetings that take place in newsrooms every
Local research could help newspapers better understand
"We need to use predictive metrics that will help us
understand how our readers feel about stories” we might cover, said Day. "Just
because you think it’s important doesn’t mean that it is.”
Besides editorial decision making, analytics could also be
used to help with design, distribution and advertising.
Layout analytics can be used to guide front-page design, for
"People don’t read the newspaper, they scan it,” said Day. "Stories
must be presented visually.”
Identifying new audiences is important, but newspapers
should especially target those who have recently stopped subscribing within the
last couple of years, he said.
"You need to know about people who are no longer engaging
with your paper and why.”
The plight of the media is an important story, but Day said
newspapers may have gone too far in covering their own troubles.
"Television never tells people that their numbers are down
from the previous year,” he said.
"My pitch is always that [some] papers love to report how
poorly they are doing, which I think is a terribly stupid thing to do, for one,”
said Rumbach. "And two, that is not true in our area.”