Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Why newspaper "home runs" matter

Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter is on to something when he urges newspapers to get on to a big story and swing for the fences if they want to survive. He uses the example of the expose by The Daily Telegraph in London of spending by members of parliament. Carter is right, to a point. Newspapers have to make people feel they need to pay attention to them by doing work that matters. Here's how he puts it: "So here’s an idea: get on a big story with widespread public appeal, devote your best resources to it, say a quiet prayer, and swing for the fences." But there's another aspect to newspapering, and that's habit. Many people make a newspaper part of their daily routine because of everything from the crosswords to the comics. It's hard to keep up a home run streak. But if you're never hitting them, then the public in any community comes to take for granted its newspaper and doesn't see the value in following it. Major efforts like the ones he describes are the brand builders, the rallying cry both for the staff and for the community. Without them, it's hard to imagine newspapers having a future and it's hard to imagine newspapers credibly arguing that they're essential because of their watchdog role. But without a whole other array of content, the furniture that makes readers want to come back every day, newspapers won't be successful either.

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