My marketing students seem to know more about the San Francisco Chronicle than the Chronicle does.
Every term I buy 20 copies of the paper and pass them out to the class. Their job is to come up with ideas to save the Chron. American newspapers are in trouble. It's been estimated the last paper will be thrown on someone's front steps in the year 2043.
My students don't have any trouble with the exercise. They can see why newspapers have lost readers under 30.They also know how to change the paper into something desirable.
Most of what they suggest involves the product itself. It simply isn't helpful or relevant to them. They know how to make it interesting, and they say so. For example, if it looked and read like a magazine. If it was more about people, new ideas, and entertainment. Then, when I ask them if the Chronicle made all their changes and did everything they asked, would they read it...about half are not sure.
I love newspapers. When I was about seven and the paperboy slammed the Chicago Herald-American against the back door of our apartment, I'd quickly bring it in the house to read all the news that Hearst saw fit to print. It was fun. Most of the other people in our building got the Chicago Daily News in the afternoon, the liberal paper. Mine, with all its scandals, was far more exciting to a kid. That's when my love for writing began.
In sixth grade I published a newspaper, The Room 313 Flash. I didn't have any way to print it, so I just typed one copy and put it on the bulletin board. The best part was the gossip column. In high school I switched to writing plays, but in college I was a journalism major and editor of a humor magazine. I'm an avid newspaper reader to this day --- two and sometimes three papers a day.
Unlike my students. They check their computers every morning for the news. You don't have to fold them and you don't get ink on your hands. Then on to their cellphones, texting their way to school.
I hope that newspapers will look around at some of the media that are doing well and learn a few lessons. My students can also tell them 20 or so ways to survive. If newspapers would be willing to re-think their mission and delivery system for 2012, they might turn things around.
I'll believe it when I see it in the newspaper. And if anyone from the Chronicle is reading this, I'll set you up with my students. They have some terrific ideas.