The dawn of modern media is something i write about on a regular basis, be that social media or otherwise. The future of the paper news appears to be an uncertain one, with online and mobile editions becoming the reader's choice. I thought i would take a look at how my own local paper is dealing with this.
The Leicester Mercury
has a great history that goes back to the 19th Century. It releases a daily
paper version, and has an online version. As you would expect from a local paper, it dedicates itself to the events effecting the local community, with a section focused on world news. There is, however, a disparity between the audiences reached by their two versions.
The paper version is steeped in its own history. Although it covers modern events, it doesn't really appeal to the modern community. My grandfather has been reading it for almost his whole life, but when i read it i struggle to be engaged by it. I have two schools of thought as to why.
Firstly it could be a comparison issue. The online version, although with much the same content, is a really engaging read and is what i consider the gold standard of online news sites. Naturally by comparison any paper version is going to have a more of a conservative feel to it.
Secondly, one could argue that every paper news publication faces this same challenge. I consume so much news online, that i've almost forgotten how to read the paper versions, so i will naturally feel less comfortable with paper in my hands.
So when the same paper content can have such a different impact online, how can the newspaper ever survive?
This is the big question, and the easy answer is often to make the paper version more like the online version. I say this is not the right move. Clearly something has to change to make local newspapers more appealing to the 'online generation', and i think the answer lies in the subtler changes. A really obvious example, i love to see the old photos sent into the paper. Someone looking to update the paper might think that to modernise is to remove evidence of the papers history…the 'sweeping overhaul' attitude. In fact, the more we move away from paper versions, the more opportunity there is for them to capitalise on that same history.
I use that example to illustrate my point, its a bit literal. More subtly i say that the modern newspaper has to find ways to engage with its audience in a broader way. This is a huge cliché, but i make no apology for it. A wonderful example of the modern newspaper success story is the Independent's sister paper, The i
'The i' has really carved out its niche as 'the people's paper'. Read their short 'editor's article' each day and you can see that their readers have been at the heart of what they have done from the beginning. Their readers are often brutal with their feedback, but they give the feedback because the paper has a track record of having changed the paper based on that feedback. A paper like The Leicester Mercury has a very formal feel to it, and i wouldn't feel compelled to give feedback because i wouldn't believe it would be acted on.
They ran a great competition last year when they invited people to write their own articles, and i think they did something similar with the cartoons. It's this reader engagement that makes The i so brilliant.
So in this case, the cliché is true…reader engagement is the future of modern newspapers. The Leicester Mercury, like many other local papers, has achieved that in their online versions, but has yet to move away from the 'Letters Pages' of old to the modern blueprint of reader engagement.
their new editor, Richard Bettsworth,
i look forward to the modern Mercury. To those Mercury staff who took offence to one of my tweets a few weeks ago, this was the point i was trying to make.