Combined sections, smaller newsholes…how can a newspaper remain viable when there is less space and fewer resources?

The trick is to let go of the notion that every edition has to be all things to all people. Maybe it’s time for newspapers to adopt a magazine approach to presenting its news.

Here’s how to make the best of less:

1. Cover story: Instead of 20 people writing 20 stories that are 20 inches long, focus on one or two stories a day that will be your “cover story.” It’s easy when you have breaking news, but also enterprise a daily feature that anchors the front page and is the main entry point into the paper. Depending on the story, some days it could take up the entire page. But this is where the focus of resources should go, in telling the story traditionally through an in-depth piece, as well as supporting stories and graphic elements. USA Today created the idea for newspaper almost 30 years ago. It makes even more sense today.

2. Digests: Do you really need 10+ inches on every government meeting? Hit the high points, keep the facts up front and the quotes to a minimum. If it’s a budget story, save the official-speak and just say what the major earmarks are and how readers will be affected by the increase/decrease.

3. Beyond words: Look at how the story is best told. Can it be better said in a picture or two? How about a graphic? A list? An alternative story form? A haiku (no kidding!)? Something short and sweet to help readers get the main points quickly.

4. Bullet points: Again, short and to the point. The town’s new road project? Bullet point the total cost and what roads are affected. A controversial tax district to pay for facade improvements? Bullet point the facts, the cost, a brief synopsis of both sides. Save the mayor’s comments for the city’s web site.

5. Bring on other resources: If you still can’t get it into the paper, tell people where they can get more. Utilize your web site to be a resources (not a repository of the 20-inch version of the story you couldn’t get into print). Set up a page for a controversial issue, where you can place statements from all sides, supporting documents and links to supporting websites Or direct your print readers directly to the supporting sites. The more you help them get the information, the more they’ll come back to you to begin their search the next time.

There are more ideas floating out there that I’d love to hear about. The bottom line is that newspapers should not just consider the bottom line as they cut back on newsprint. They should be looking at how to best continue the mission with less.

It can be done.

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