Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I'm Really Going to Miss The New York Times

I’m really going to miss the New York Times, and I’ll keep on saying it until they pry the last coffee-stained, slightly color mis-aligned paper issue from my grumpy hands. Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger has said that eventually they will stop the print edition and many have predicted that this will happen in about 5 years. (My real guess is that paper issues will become a premium, luxury item that only the wealthy can afford – you heard it here first).
But if the paper goes away, we lose out on an experience that has been tuned and crafted for centuries. I just don’t see how an electronic version can match the paper version in 3 key areas:
  • Community
  • Professional Curating (otherwise known as editorial oversight)
  • Serendipity
Our world will have less paper to throw away, but our ability to understand and participate in the world will be forever change.
In the area of Community, I introduce a typical US family in the morning, waking up, drinking coffee, eating breakfast, and swapping sections of the Times. They scan the headlines, groan at the editorials, read the sports, pass sections to each other and basically get as much of a grip on the world as they are willing to bear on that particular morning. I’m sure that this family represents a dying breed and that home delivery numbers are dropping. I just wonder what the future experience will be. Will the family have 4 iPads, 4 Kindles or 4 NY Times specialty devices that just download the Times? (I’m thinking it’s the latter, frankly) As I think about it in 5 years my kids will both be in college, so I guess Suzanne and I will just have to fight over some sort of tablet.
Professional Curating/Editorial Oversight is a funny topic. So many of us who blog and tweet describe what we do as curating. But the folks at the Times and their ink-stained brethren at dying newspapers around the world are the original curators. And curating does not mean just deciding what is interesting. It also means that articles can be placed near each other so that when you read one story you may be drawn to another related story, or maybe even an advertisement. And editorial oversight goes way beyond curating what is interesting or important and begins with an idea for a story, and includes primary research, editing, re-writing, photography or illustrations and fact-checking.
For example, in today’s (9/27) Business section of the Times, there was a great article on QR tags titled “Bar Codes Add Detail On Items In TV Ads” – describing a way to drive consumer Action from a TV ad in a very low friction manner. Just point your app phone at the weird QR image and you get taken to a website for further personal engagement. But how many steps were involved in deciding if that story was newsworthy, doing the research, editing, etc? Way more than most bloggers are willing to take, I promise you.
Finally, Serendipity. As I’ve said in previous posts, serendipity is harder to find these days. Simply said, it is harder to be delighted when you are being targeted.
Back to the Times, right below the QR TV Ad article was an ad from NBC Universal titled “Marketing Action” on a very similar topic, showing how advertiser TurboTax benefitted from a cross-platform marketing campaign involving Awareness from custom commercials featuring NBC talent on news, fiction, Sports and Late Night shows, and delivered opportunities for consumers to take action on integrated ads for the websites for those television properties. NBC’s ad directly related to the story above and was placed perfectly in the Business section. This was not a coincidence.
AOL and Google also ran very interesting Ads on the online Ad business. AOL took out a full 2-page spread to talk about an improved customer viewing and advertising experience through something they call “Project Devil” and Google took out three quarters of a full spread to tell their story on improved targeting through better online display ads. I’m sure someone out there can tell me if Google was likely to get more impressions by not running the full spread and getting an actual news story to run next to their ad. Is there an online medium that delivers the punch of a full two-page print spread in the NY Times?
The things that interest us come in many flavors and styles. We trust print institutions/brands like the Times to deliver a specific experience that allow us to learn about things that we don’t already know and to help us make connections. But since that experience is part of a business model that is no longer viable, we will all lose something. We’ll still have access to information, but the methods by which we make connections and learn about things that we weren’t specifically looking for have a long way to go before they can equal the pleasures of a great morning newspaper.
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