Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Honolulu Star-Bulletin Dumbs Down Its Pages; Could Be A Dumb Idea

Or, It Could Be The Only Way To Get People To Read Something Besides the Ads and TV Listings. Sigh.
Stop scolding. Yes, know full well newspapers are in a cage match with the inexorable migration of their readers to the web.
The Star-Bulletin, the scrappy afternoon (yes, a few still exist) paper in Honolulu (lucky stiffs) has taken a scythe to the conventional wisdom about newspaper layout, according to Mark Fitzgerald in Editor & Publisher.
Now the S-B's front page and section fronts are full of up to 20 short items that can be viewed as either blurbs on their own or as refers to the full story inside a section. It's the paper equivalent of a click-through, which editor Frank Bridgewater makes no apologies about.

"We know the overwhelming number of readers don't like jumps, but for some reason the newspaper industry has continued to force jumps on people,” Bridgewater told E&P. “The older readers accept it a little bit, or I should say, I think they tolerate it. But the younger the reader, the more they hate jumps.”

Bridgewater may be bending to reality, having spent more time than he cares to in the Short Attention Span Theatre. But he then risks the danger of dumbing down the product, making it superficial to the point of being irrelevant, especially for the "older readers" (definition, please?) who still make up the lion's share of paid circulation.
Yes, that's the core of the problem in newspaperdom, not enough eyeballs under 40 plunking down coin for the product. But until you figure out a way to snare that crowd, don't alienate the core.
My concern is if you give people a reason just to read the section fronts, they won't go further afield, reducing the perception of the S-B as a must-read.
It reminds me of my time in network radio news, where you knew that after the commercial break on the hourly newscast, a lot of stations would dump out and not take the back minute. The consequence was the compulsion to then cram more stories into the front part of the newscast, which meant more breathless and shorter shrift for items that begged for more context and explanation.
The Star-Bulletin, which faced extinction just a few years ago, can't afford to go down that path. It trails the morning Honolulu Advertiser in circulation 143,020 to 64,305. Faced with that, it'll likely find that less does not translate into more.

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