Hoax reflections & the future of newspapers

On Monday morning we reported a column in the Opelousas Daily World contained inaccurate quotes attributed to Nick Saban. The quotes were cited as being from a Birmingham News story; however, the quotes were in fact from an email hoax passed around by fans of Alabama rivals. The quotes made Saban look bad and were included in a strongly worded editorial attack on Saban.

The fallout of the column was both refreshing and sad. Refreshing in that the truth quickly got out, and falsehoods about Saban were expunged from the web. However, the whole thing was sad in it cost the Daily World sports editor his job. That fact alone makes me almost regret helping expose the hoax. But I suppose truth is its own comfort, and if the truth were not exposed, then Saban and the University would have endured unjust harm.

The coverage about the incident has been shockingly quiet. The only mentions I’ve seen so far have come from the Mobile Press-Register and the Huntsville Times.

Also, Paul Finebaum closely examined the media scandals during a conversation with the Mobile Press-Register sports editor. You can listen to the interview by clicking here. Finebaum begins talking about the press scandals at about the 5:30 mark.

The next portion of this post is more for persons with an interest in the media in general and newspapers in particular. It has no releation to Alabama football.

Future of newspapers
“As a long-time newspaper guy, I think the chances of my two daughters reading a print edition as they grow older are close to zero,” according to this column in Editor & Publisher.

Yes and no. Print won’t ever die for one simple reason that all the content people don’t understand. What is the newspaper at its core, at its simplest form? It isn’t a content delivery system; it is an advertising delivery system. The axiom remains true, editorial content is “just the shit you put around ads.”

With that said, the hook to draw distribution (and thereby advertising revenue) is news. Newspapers shouldn’t neglect online distribution channels, but the paper product itself is critical for distribution of one of the more lucrative elements of the modern newspaper business—preprints.

Where will you place preprints if you don’t have a news product to wrap them? I can’t imagine for most newspapers, the cost savings from not printing and distributing would outweigh the lost preprint revenue.

But there is something driving the talk, newspapers face exploding costs in print and distribution. Perhaps newspapers can save money, increase circulation and thereby increase profitability.

How? Free distribution.

Despite what NY Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger said in a rare interivew, newsprint is cheap. The expense comes from buying/retaining subscribers and distribution. Many newspapers could trade circulation revenue for greater distribution if the product were free.

But critics of print operations would be quick to point out young people just won’t read newspapers; therefore, you would eventually run out of readers even with a free product.

That ignores the popularity of non-traditional weeklies. In many locations, these are entertainment based publications, but there are locations where traditional broadsheet news weeklies have launched (and lasted over five-years.)

People will read what interests them, whether it is on the Internet or in print. The key is finding it, being able to get it (and if it is free, it is easier to get. I never carry change in my pocket, so it cuts down on the times I buy copies of a newspaper.) And of course being INTERESTED in it. Newspaper readership is declining because newspapers simply suck today in comparision with the past. Look at newspapers from the 1920’s, 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, and then look at today’s newspapers. The older papers contained information and more of it. 

Newspapers screamed news and lured in readers. Today’s newspapers, muddled by journalism schools and a faux impartiality, do not deliver what readers want—NEWS. Look at cable news, what’s the most successful cable news channel of the moment? Fox. Why? Because it delivers news to a market that was underserved by other outlets.

I’m sure a “journalist” would be quick to point out Fox News is biased. But so what. You won’t sell me on the notion that CNN is unbiased or for that matter any media. What we should do, is learn from outlets like Fox News or free newspapers. The marketplace determines what it needs and what it wants. Vox populi, vox dei.

And the marketplace wants news. Newspaper sales still increase when big events happen. Whether it is murder or corruption or war, people want information they believe relevant to their lives. Newspapers are at their best when covering major events, but too often newspapers waste time and resources on featurized puff pieces that nobody but a relative of the subject would want to read. Readership initiatives tell us that readers want different types of news friendlier and lighter, but we shouldn’t trust focus groups. Readers tell us they want more positive news, but give me a bloody murder and single copy sales skyrocket. Readers lie about how they behave. And we shouldn’t forget that when charting the future.

The future of newspapers isn’t as bleak as some experts would have us believe, but newspapers should focus on real content and innovative delivery methods instead of abandoning newsprint.