WWII Era Advice On Newspapers Still Relevant Today... If Only Newspapers Would Listen

from the it-ain't-that-hard dept

We've been among those slamming newspapers who are complaining about Google somehow harming their business when they've done little to nothing to upgrade the value they offer readers. Who knew that this was the same advice that newspapers were getting 50 years ago as well? Mathew Ingram points us to a profile of Bernard Kilgore, who ran the Wall Street Journal for many years -- and helped reinvent the paper to take on the "threat" of radio news. Subscriptions were falling, and people questioned why they needed a newspaper to tell them what the radio had told them the day before:
Kilgore observed that then new media such as radio meant market news was available in real time. Some cities had a dozen newspapers that had gained the Journal's once-valuable ability to report share prices.

The Journal had to change. Technology increasingly meant readers would know the basic facts of news as it happened. He announced, "It doesn't have to have happened yesterday to be news," and said that people were more interested in what would happen tomorrow. He crafted the front page "What's News -- " column to summarize what had happened, but focused on explaining what the news meant.

On the morning after Pearl Harbor, other newspapers recounted the facts already known to all the day before through radio. The Journal's page-one story instead began, "War with Japan means industrial revolution in the United States." It outlined the implications for the economy, industry and commodity and financial markets.
It seems like newspapers today could actually learn a lot from that core message: focus on providing additional value beyond what they can get elsewhere. And, if your fear is that aggregators or bloggers are somehow "stealing" from you, you're not providing enough value.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Ima Fish, Apr 15th, 2009 @ 10:13am

    "It seems like newspapers today could actually... focus on providing additional value."

    Why risk proposing an idea that could possibly fail when you could simply layoff reporters and downsize?!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Michael, Apr 15th, 2009 @ 10:33am

    additional value beyond what they can get elsewhere

    As the founder of an offline to internet keyword link system (and huge convergence advocate) I am totally confused by the newspaper business. Do publishers really think readers enjoy searching their website for additional information or updates. Heck if I'm going to search anywhere, it'll probably be google. Publishers complain they can't monetize their digital assets ... the currency of the web is eyeballs, the more you get, the more you earn. The printed newspaper can drive more eyeballs and at the same time enhance the readers enjoyment ... how about a keyword link from the TV listings directly to a trailer on tonight's episode ... or, a keyword link to the video on how to make perfect gravy. It doesn't have to be rocket science to be effective.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    another mike, Apr 15th, 2009 @ 11:12am


    Yesterday's news today is probably not a good business model. It is a business model, just not likely to be profitable on its own.
    Analyzing the news and reporting on its implications for the future is more likely to be a good business model.
    It's what the military calls "actionable intelligence" and people pay big bucks for it. It isn't the data, it's the information you can build a strategy on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 15th, 2009 @ 11:15am

    One Big Difference

    between then and now. This guy was a bright, innovative thinker. Today, these guys, not so much.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    GeneralEmergency (profile), Apr 15th, 2009 @ 11:23am

    Adding value to newitem commentary and analysis..

    Means returning to "Ethical, Balanced Journalism" and abandoning the politicized, smear job, drive-by hit piece crap that passes for print journalism today.

    Print journalism is a form of broadcasting. It is non-interactive. I have said repeatedly here on TechDirt that people are becoming increasingly intolerant of broadcasting as it is a one sided conversation. The internet and especially "Web 2.0" have inculturated an expectation of interactivity in media. "If you're not willing to engage in a conversation, stay the hell home." Nothing makes people more angry than when they see something in print that "pretends" to be balanced and fair journalism, but is clearly political propaganda.

    If I were an owner of a print newpaper today, I would do the following before it was too late:
    1) Fire any Editor or reporter that cannot leave their political biases at the door.
    2) Immediately add unedited, threaded public commentary to the online edition. Use community moderation strategies like SlashDot does to lower administration costs.
    3) Recycle insightful commentary from the online edition, back into the print edition on a regular basis, essentially welding the two together.
    4) Investigate and expose any party or organization that attempts to inject political bias into the paper.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Andrew KErr, Apr 15th, 2009 @ 11:52am


    That was a wonderfully written article. Nice job Mr. Masnick.

    Keep that coming!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 15th, 2009 @ 12:14pm

    Mike, you are killing me...

    Okay, twice in one day I agree with Mike Masnick. He usually talks about the down side of the newspaper business and how newspapers kling to old business models. However, this time he points to REAL advice from a prior era: Give people something they are unable to get anywhere else and people will flock to you.

    Actually, I read a juvenile book many years ago where the author had a slightly different twist on a definition of capitalism. His definition of capitalism was taking something people could get for free and figuring out how to charge for it.

    Think about it. His example was worms. Worms are available everywhere and can readily be had for free. Yet, bait shops do a booming business in bait.

    Mike's suggestion is quite similar. News is available for free (or quasi free, is you count television and radio; I count this as quasi-free because you have to have a television and possibly cable or satellite to get decent news, or you have to have a radio - though they are inexpensive). How do you take what is free and make money from it.

    Mike's advice in this post is excellent. Congratulations, Mike.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Veritas, Apr 15th, 2009 @ 12:37pm

    What if...

    What if...the news papers had written thought provoking articles about the impact a war with Iraq would have on the military, the country, the world? Where were they…?

    What if...the news papers would have written thought provoking articles about the impact of repealing the regulations passed after the First stock market crash. The very regulations that were put into place to prevent another financial meltdown? Where were they…?

    What if...the news papers were to write thought provoking articles about how news papers could write articles to add value to our country as the 4th estate?

    What if

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 15th, 2009 @ 12:43pm


    Lazy is easier than work...blaming is easier than work...suing is easier than work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    dwind, Apr 15th, 2009 @ 1:06pm

    Didn't newspapers die out

    when CNN and Fox News started broadcasting 24 hours a day?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Danny (profile), Apr 15th, 2009 @ 2:23pm

    tongue in cheek

    "It seems like newspapers today could actually learn a lot from that core message: focus on providing additional value beyond what they can get elsewhere."

    And if that doesn't work, they can report Improv Everywhere stunts as actual news.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    JS in Toronto, Apr 15th, 2009 @ 7:13pm

    Read one lately?

    Does Mike read newspapers much? The good ones are already doing what he's talking about. Attracting eyeballs is all well and good. But as the NYT is finding out, online ad revenues aren't nearly enough to pay for quality journalism -- the kind he's referring to. Online freeloaders will inevitably have to pay.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Michael, May 15th, 2009 @ 10:49am

    Read one lately - actually 2 daily

    I read the Star and National Post print editions daily... Neither of them provide simple convergence from print to online updates or additional coverage. JS ... please assist in advising which newspapers are doing what I am talking about?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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