Thomas J. Holbein Award Winning Essay: Newspaper Industry Initiatives for 2010

Thomas J. Holbein Award Winning Essay: Newspaper Industry Initiatives for 2010

From my early career in the Newspaper business. Here’s the essay I wrote that won 1st place North America:

Newspaper Industry Initiatives for 2010
By Stafford Kendall

There is only one initiative that newspapers must undertake today to maintain our position as the dominant medium in the future. It’s nothing fancy. It’s something we should have been doing all along. The initiative we have to take is to ask our readers and advertisers what they want.

If we take that simple step, and really listen to what they tell us, we will be thriving in 2010. If we choose not to, we will not exist in 2010.

Our salvation won’t come from another total market coverage product. The readers may not want free newspapers littering their lawns. The advertisers would rather reach well-educated, higher income newspaper subscribers.

Our survival won’t be guaranteed just because we take our content online. Refusing to provide readers with an online source might be a good way to commit corporate suicide, but the fact that you have a Web presence doesn’t mean you are out of the woods.

Our cash flow won’t be saved by another undersold special section that just takes ROP ads and moves them to a tab.

The only initiative we have to take is to ask our readers and advertisers what they want. The only way we can hope to survive is by finding ways to give them what they want before someone else comes along and does it for us.

Asking what they want does not mean using properly distributed marketing surveys every three years. Asking their opinion does not involve bringing in focus groups. Such tools might help, but this survival tool really involves change at a more fundamental level.

It means every reader comment to a reporter has to be listened to, understood and responded to. It means every e-mail needs to be read by all of those addressed and considered on a day-to-day basis. It means we have to do more than go through the motions of caring what the world thinks of us.

It means every circulation dispatcher and classified ad-taker needs to be encouraged to spend an extra 3 minutes asking the caller what they like about the newspaper. And what they dislike.

I promise you that the people in your organization who deal with the public are hearing it all day long. They just don’t tell you, because it’s not what you want to hear, or even worse, because they think the public is wrong.

There was a time when the Letters to the Editor feature was not just extra inches for the Op-Ed page. It was a way to put the community’s voice in print.

There was a time when the newspaper was a true reflection of the publisher and the community it was printed in — not a collection of a central corporation’s choices for national briefs and chain store coupon inserts.

Our customers want something from us. What would make us presume to think we knew what it was without asking? Readers and advertisers are our customer base.

If we don’t find out what they want and deliver on it, we won’t make it to 2010. But that’s okay. After all, if we don’t care enough to actually talk to our customers, we don’t deserve to make it.


About the Author: Stafford Kendall is online advertising coordinator of The Advocate/Capital City Press in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA.

About the Scholarship: The Thomas J. Holbein Memorial Scholarship was established in 2000 to reward outstanding visions of the future of newspapers by newspaper employees. In its four-year history, hundreds of essays were submitted, and the top essays are included on this web site.

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