Villing & Company

Sometimes the Medium is the Message

Newspapers are trying to reinforce their relevance, but are they preaching to the choir?

Last month Jeannine Villing wrote about the declining relevance of newspapers and the societal ramifications of this trend. Recently I’ve noticed full-page ads in local newspapers attempting to reinforce the medium’s continuing role and relevance as both an information source for millions of people and a valuable advertising vehicle.

I share Jeannine’s views that I cannot imagine a world without a vibrant newspaper industry. I, too, worry about the implications of the potential demise of our local newspapers. But I have to wonder if running long copy, full-page ads isn’t simply a matter of preaching to the choir. The people who will see and read these ads are the same ones who are already seeing and reading the newspaper.

Here’s the fundamental issue. A large segment of contemporary society, especially younger adults, no longer see the value of getting news from the printed media. They simply don’t see the value of paying for a newspaper subscription or single newsstand copy when they can access the information they want from the Internet. On their own terms. Anytime they want it.

It seems to me newspapers need to do a better job of getting their message out to the people whose interest they have lost by speaking to them via the media those individuals are using.

To be fair, the newspaper industry may be doing more of this than I realize. For sure, they are working desperately to figure out how to integrate their offline and online operations in a model that will ultimately be profitable. And, I for one, do not envy their task. This is a tough dilemma that many people much smarter than I have not yet figured out.

I hope they do.

As Jeannine pointed out so eloquently, society needs a strong and vital journalism industry. This is especially true on the local level. Newspapers have long played an important role as watchdogs of our local institutions. While the broadcast news media can fill that role to some degree, I’m not sure they are as suited to the task as print journalists.

Looking at the situation newspapers find themselves in, I’m reminded of the ice industry. Back in the days following World War II, the industry spent millions of dollars trying to convince American consumers iceboxes were better than refrigerators. The industry became virtually extinct as a result of this ill-advised approach to promoting a story of relevance when there was none. So what happened? The industry reinvented itself as a means of enhancing the entertainment experience with clear, clean ice for beverages. Today virtually every supermarket and convenience store sells packaged ice and the industry, while much smaller, is strong and profitable.

The newspaper association hasn’t asked for my advice and probably never will. And I don’t have a magic 8-ball with the answers. But it does seem to me, they need to start getting their message out through media beyond their own.

Filed Under: advertising

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