Friday, January 02, 2004

What sells newspapers

Happy New Year to all. May everyone's year be safe, prosperous and meaningful.

It sometimes surprises me when intelligent, well-read people fall into the common trap of saying horrible occurrences (particularly graphic images) "sell newspapers."

They do not. Actually, they cause people to cancel subscriptions.

What actually sells newspapers? Wedding announcements.

The mother of a bride or groom may pick up more than 25 copies of the newspaper to send to distant relatives. No story or photo prompts any reader to pick up this many single-issue copies from a newsstand. It's a deflating realization for most young reporters, yet it keeps everyone humble.

However, this is the misunderstood part of the newspaper business. If newspapers really wanted rack sales, they'd be nothing but stories and pictures of brides and sports (particularly youth-league sports). Instead, newspapers contain information readers need each day.

The misconception is often a confusion between media forms. Some people think newspaper and television stories are the same. Therefore, they watch the television and blame the newspaper. This is an apples and oranges issue.

Yes, I'll concede TV does a far better job of presenting breaking news in real time. However, "live" is frequently confusing and not always accurate. It changes as it's watched. Meanwhile, newspaper stories are accurate to the point of deadline. The next day, it may be clarified in detail.

At a recent shoot, a nice man said he was pleased I was "finally covering a good story" for the newspaper. I told him he hadn't read our newspaper. He got flustered and changed the subject because I caught him.

He couldn't respond because he probably had not read any newspaper lately. Even if he had, I could've asked him "when" or "how many pages" and the reaction would've been the same. Likewise, he didn't know what my particular beat is.

Yes, I do cover fires, murders and the like, but I cover far more sporting events, elementary school PTA functions, concerts, ballets, and theaters. If he thought the 11 community parades/holiday events I covered this December are "bad news," then he probably shouldn't get a subscription. He'd never find "good news" in our paper.

If we gave two stories the same amount of space, most of our paper's readers would want to know about the serial rapist in their city rather than best manicured lawn award winner. Consequently, they won't read the lawn story. It doesn't mean the lawn story isn't written. It's simply a prioritization of importance to individual readers.

Enough for now,

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