Just too boring. An alternative reason for declining newspaper sales

Many reasons are given for declining newspaper sales.

But the most frequently cited is the rise of the internet.

What you rarely hear is someone questioning the content of newspapers.

Could it be possible that a significant reason for the sales decline is that we publish too much boring or badly presented news?

It is virtually a taboo subject among journalists.

That is why the same stock-in-trade stories are being printed without question every day in regional newspapers the length of Britain.

Surely no other industry faced with such a drastic slump in demand for its product would simply blame its delivery system.

‘There’s nothing wrong with our stories,’ journalists stubbornly insist.

But one newspaper executive is daring to differ.

Andrew Mullins is managing director of Independent Print, the holding company owned by Alexander Lebedev, the man in charge of the London Evening Standard and Independent newspapers.

The Standard has gone from losing as much as £26 million a year to its first profit in 12 years.

The Media Briefing reports him speaking at the Digital Media Strategies Conference 2013, where he said: “Don’t let editors decide what the product is, why not create something that readers want?”

He said anyone reading an Evening Standard story a few years ago would have encountered headlines bellowing about death, cancer, bombs and crime.

“It was making people ashamed and not proud of the city they lived in. They had had a hard day at work, they didn’t want disaster.”

The same criticism could still be levelled at many regional newspapers.

They still concentrate on material such as councils and courts, for which readers have limited appetites.

There are too many negative, whingeing, gloomy stories. People complaining about their local council, endless page leads about crime, litter and health problems.

What about the fun that is part of life too? Where are the celebrations of achievements? Where are the lighter front-page splashes?

There should be lots of short stories, instead of a handful of long ones. There should be brighter, dramatically cropped photos instead of predictable, rectangular shots of grumpy old men pointing at vandalised bus shelters. There should be clean, modern layouts rather than stuffy, traditional ones.

None of this is to say that there is no place for what it is convenient to call “serious journalism”.

But the reality is that there will be no journalism at all unless we start serving up more of what the customer wants.


About John Wilson

Editor of Hereford Times, Ludlow Advertiser, Stroud News and Journal, Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard and Gloucestershire Gazette series. Journalist for more than 30 years.
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