So we’re in our weekly staff meeting Wednesday, talking about the ways in which we’re going to start prioritizing our digital product. At one point in our discussions, one newsroom person loses it and begins to rant about how we can’t neglect our older readers, many of who don’t use computers and are nowhere near digital-first news consumers.
Another person responded that print will always be our anchor, but there’s a larger point that should’ve been made: if we don’t start prioritizing digital now, the newspaper could close in the next decade.
Yes, we have a portion of our audience that only reads the print edition. But our newspaper has followed a print-first approach up until now, and in the last 10 years that’s resulted in a shrinkage in our overall circulation, not growth.
To make money, we need digital readers. No matter how great our print product is — and it is pretty great considering how few reporters we have — quality doesn’t seem to raise print subscriptions.
McAlester isn’t so different from the rest of the country. The largest demographic here is people my age (or even slightly younger), and it’s no secret that my generation just doesn’t buy newspapers.
Many of my generation also seem to think that because information should be free, the news should be as well. To survive in this world that grows more digitized with each passing day, newspapers have to convince younger readers to pay for the news. And the first way to do that is to present the news in their preferred format.
Maybe some old people will suffer slightly, though the majority of our content does print eventually, and that’s unlikely to change soon. But if our readers are that heavily skewed towards the elderly, then at some point soon we’re looking at a massive dropoff in subscribers.
The only way to replace that loss is to already have in place a strong base of paying digital readers.
I’ve been a full-time professional journalist for just over two years. I don’t think the News-Capital will be the only stop in my career, and I know whatever job I get next will either require me to have these digital-first skills or at least look more favorably upon me for having them.
I get that people who’ve been working here a lot longer are more deeply set in their ways. I’d hope a desire to best serve our readers would trump that inertia and inspire people to put in the extra work, but unfortunately I don’t think that happens in real life in any industry anywhere.
Like it or not, print is quickly becoming (or has already become) the least popular form of communication. If newspapers had been a little bit smarter 15 years ago, they might’ve realized that and jumped into the digital age before it crippled the industry.
Instead, both our industry and my paper is very close to a cliff. And if some of us have to learn a few new skills to keep our jobs, then frankly we ought to do it.
Here’s everything I wrote this past month.