I’ve been in a recent comment debate with Bill Lueders, news editor at the Isthmus in Madison, Wis., over remarks he recently made to a local business group. And while I certainly agree with his conclusion — “Read the Newspaper.” — I was taken aback by his stance that all the reasons readers say they don’t read a newspaper is not convincing … therefore, readers need to change their habits and read newspapers.

That is equivalent to GM saying “All the reasons you’re not buying SUVs anymore is wrong, so change your habits and buy a Hummer.”

While Bill’s intentions are honorable, he severely misses the point. Newspapers serve a purpose and function to the community. But newspapers are also a business and need to have a customer base and, in turn, make money. Changing a newspaper’s shape,content or even delivery method is not necessarily pandering to the marketing gurus. Readers’ needs and demands have changed over the past several decades. I’m a journalist, but I’m also a husband and father raising two very active children. I barely have time to sit down and fully digest my own newspaper, and barely scratch the surface of the second paper delivered to my home. And I find myself no different than my non-journalistic neighbors who are up before dawn and in bed past midnight every day.

While we have been offering the same menu over the past 100 years, local cable, CNN, free weeklies and the Internet have come along to offer alternative news packages. In addition, wireless networks, Google News, RSS feeds, smart phones and … soon … electronic readers will offer delivery methods that will better fit a reader’s cramped lifestyle.

Oh yes, readers may change their habits, but I doubt they will come back to the old newspaper when they can get news off their iPhones through a personalized news feed.

Bill (as well as Jim Russell, who thought I was behind the times with a blog post several months ago) should read Rick Edmond’s recent Poynter blog post. Newspapers are the Bennigans of the industry. We lost our customers years ago and need to figure out who they are and what they want, then develop a news package that not only meets the core values of great journalism, but also meet the demands of our customers.

If not, they’ll simply go somewhere else.


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