The Detroit News and The Detroit Free Press today begin operation as two wholly new entities. As you likely know, the jointly operating newspapers have ceased home delivery but for Thursday, Friday and Sunday, with the remaining days offering print editions at newsstands only. Those days will see greatly streamlined versions of both newspapers (two sections total for the News, one section for the Freep), with shorter stories, fewer jumps and more condensed news. Both newspapers will focus instead on their online delivery platforms.
Each publicly unveiled digital versions of their newspapers as well. These editions look just like the print editions we are accustomed to, and will mirror the print versions of the paper that actually go to press, but the reader can navigate them online. Click on the section you want, click on the story you want to read, turn the pages, etc.
Interestingly, these strongly resemble an idea I had for online newspapers about a decade ago. I thought it would be clever—and would facilitate some reluctant folks’ migration to the online environment—if the newspaper online looked just like a newspaper, and you could click around what looked like a newspaper to read the stories. However, now, some 10 years later, this doesn’t seem so clever anymore, nor as relevant. I suspect that older readers, like the ones Andrea discussed here, might gravitate to such a format, as progress tries to rip print newspapers from their clenched fists. But I would guess that most people, who are used to getting their information, news and content online, will find this cumbersome and strange. After all, it is because of these very users and the proliferation of the Internet news cycle that is leading to these newspapers cutting production in the first place. People are moving on, and they are used to navigating and searching websites to retrieve the information they need.
As for the micro versions of the condensed print editions, this will take some getting used to. As these two articles suggest, the industry nationally is watching. We are all eager to see how this works—if this works. Early returns are that they are sleek and lean; they are short on full-blown stories, long on headlines; quick-hitting…in and out, as our collective attention spans in the modern era have seemed to demand. For a PR professional, and for my/our clients, these shrinking news holes are no good news. Whole sections are cut (no Business in today’s Freep). Stories are shorter. Wire news is prevalent.
Good luck to both newspapers in these new endeavors. I anticipate that we are witnessing simply a precursor to the day when the newspapers announce the cessation of print production altogether. It won’t be a happy day, but an inevitable one, I fear. What I hope does NOT happen is that the continued contraction of the newspaper industry leads to a contraction in journalists, journalism and good ole’ fashioned news reporting. THAT will be a sad day, indeed.
UPDATE: Via New York Times: “European Newspapers Find Creative Ways to Survive in Internet Age” Some interesting approaches there.