The Paper Chase

My day just starts off wrong if my morning paper is not on the doorstep.

As someone who grew up in a multi-paper-reading family (Auburn Journal***, The Sacramento Bee***, The Wall Street Journal*, The San Francisco Chronicle**, The Sacramento Union*, and The Klam-Ity Kourier* — later known as just The Kourier*, which we received by mail long after leaving the reservation), not to mention the newspaper carrying dynasty my brother and I created along the greater Auburn Ravine Road corridor, I can’t not have my actual morning paper.

It’s no secret that readership and subscription rates of the hard-copy newspaper have plummeted. In my opinion, this is not just because people are getting their news online, but also because the concept of what is “news” has changed, so many people have tuned out. (Really? Your breaking story is about Britney Spears?)

In today’s Forum section, Bee editor Melanie Sill talks about the changes coming to the actual newspaper — different size paper will be used for easier handling by readers and also to reduce the amount of paper used.

Some of you may remember when The Sacramento Union (“call four-forty-four fifty-five-five-five, that’s the number for the classified!”) changed its format to tabloid-size, and it was gone completely not too much later, only to be resurrected a decade later. Now, I’m not saying that The Bee is going to go away because management is trimming an inch off of the actual newspaper, but I do think that you’re either an actual paper reader or you’re not.

People who grew up in actual paper households where reading the paper was a part of the daily family interaction probably still read the actual paper. Why not incorporate some content or contests that encourage families to read the paper together and get a new generation of paper readers hooked?

The “design an ad” and turkey coloring contests are great, but I’m thinking bigger, more informative, and ongoing. Think about all of the possibilities of partnering with other organizations that are interested in giving information to new audiences.

For instance, there could be some “healthy family challenge” put forth that is in the actual paper only, because health is something that affects everyone. Who could The Bee turn to for something like this? Well, for starters, talk to some experts at UC Davis, and any of the health care providers in the region. How about the Kings or the Monarchs or local running clubs? They might know a little something about fun physical activities that families could do together. What about some organizations that are already trying to solve some sticky health care issues or those that are promoting fun and healthful activities? Set up some categories for who participates — schools, churches, neighborhoods, play groups, etc. — and be able to track levels of participation and success stories for inclusion in future issues.

Features like this, of course, are not hard-hitting news, but if it gets families engaged in something fun and informative together that is centered around the paper, do you think that more people might pick up the paper?

This is just one of a few ideas. Bee: if you’re interested in a one person focus group of your target demographic (mid-late 30’s educated, career-driven, civic-minded, homeowner, married female), drop me a line.

‘Rag commenters: If you’re going to talk about what’s wrong with newspapers today, please also offer up some solutions. Let’s try to help Scoopy and his friends attract readers. Any other thoughts?

*Sporadic subscriptions

**Weekend only subscription

***I used to deliver this paper

12 thoughts on “The Paper Chase”

  1. How bout this? The Bee partners with schools; sends out free copies to grammar, middle schools and high schools, and teachers actually read one or two stories a day to their students so that children, who typically don’t get involved, get a daily exposure to current events.

    That, or do what the papers in England do: BOOBS!

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  2. They already cover the City Council, County Commission and the Legislature – that’s far more boobs then we could ever hope for.

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  3. I grew up in a newspaper reading family and I especially enjoy reading the Sunday paper. My day isn’t complete until I do. My brother has worked for a newspaper for over 30 years, and my mom founded a small one in a printing shop she once owned.

    I would support anything new the Bee would be doing. Healthy family activities, family trivia quizes, healthy senior groups..workout groups (not the sitting on the chair and kicking your legs around thing), etc.

    I wish they’d pump up their Wednesday Taste section. Perhaps more on local cooks, ie., “she/he is known as the best cook in the neighborhood”..maybe stories about kid chefs in the Sac area. We have enough food-type blogs in the area that one could be highlited each week in the “what’s cooking on the web” section for quite some time. Think local.

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  4. Hmm…I don’t think there are any real solutions. The problem is not that people do not want content anymore. The problem is that there is way too much content competing for brain bandwidth, and on the internet content is free and fast. Paper reading is clumsy at best. Newspapers HAVE TO figure out how to make a profit on the internet, because we need professional reporters to gather news. Otherwise, we might as well write off civilization right now.

    I think the internet will become less free over time, and the profits will flow from that.

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  5. Who has time to read the paper? I can’t imagine having the time for that. I am going nonstop and take in internet news when I can, which is daily, but which gives me a broader view of what’s going on than one particular paper’s perspective, which we all know either skews left or right. So why read just one? And why spend the money on just one? You get a much better handle on what’s going on out there in the world by variety.

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  6. Wow, you’re absolutely right. Maybe I need to get a hobby or two so I don’t have the 15-20 minutes each morning to have a relaxing breakfast over the paper. There are much more important things that need to happen, obviously! 🙂

    In all seriousness, I don’t think that anyone who reads the paper tunes out all other news. I think that most us scan many of the major news sources online multiple times each day.

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  7. 1) Get rid of a dedicated “Sports” section. Condense it to 1-2 pages, and/or cover more local sports. Anyone interested in national sports can get the same news from the internet/TV. Make national team/event results as condensed as the mututal funds.

    2) Expand Metro/Local. That’s the point of a local paper- to get info you can’t get anywhere else. Local stories, broken by by region of the City, would be nice (they already break down somewhat with area specific editions). Police Blotter please? Best gas prices? Local establishment evaluations and price comparisons? Local events at the neighborhood level?

    3) Stop with the “Human Interest” stories in the A (“World/National News”) section. Human interest stories belong in a section not related to news- “Scene”, etc. When looking at world news, I don’t want to have to flip through pages and pages about the fat local person who can’t waddle through the isles at the supermarket, and is “making a difference by educating business owners about the benefits of making their business more [insert disability or lifestyle]-friendly for the .0000001% of people with the [insert disability or lifestyle] condition.”

    4) Stop PC-ing the news. The “person of interest allegedly shot after an alleged carjacking and alleged high speed chase” is a “scumbag shot while terrorizing the community, who hopefully will rot in hell. Good riddance from all of us at the Sac Bee!” (I smell a Pulitzer!) And for goodness sake, who at the Bee decided to eliminate racial characteristics from suspect descriptions? “Police are looking for a male, age 18-21, 6 feet tall,” is utterly meaningless. If he was described as asian, put that in there.

    5) Finally, if you are going to use a 4 color printing process, LINE UP THE DAMN MACHINE so the photos aren’t all blurry, like I need to put on the 3-D glasses.

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  8. * If you want to place an ad in The Union….
    The Sacramento Union *

    – Just wanted you to know, RunnerGirl, that you’re not alone. 🙂

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  9. >>> Maybe I need to get a hobby or two so I don’t have the 15-20 minutes each morning to have a relaxing breakfast over the paper. There are much more important things that need to happen, obviously! 🙂 In all seriousness, I don’t think that anyone who reads the paper tunes out all other news. I think that most us scan many of the major news sources online multiple times each day.<<<

    Well, those weren’t exactly my points. 🙂 What can be accomplished in 15-20 minutes in terms of reading a newspaper? Probably not much. But a lot more can be accomplished with an hour of reading all across the net. It’s an efficiency thing.

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  10. The Bee’s going rapidly downhill – too much “human interest” in the alleged “news” sections. (I was worried this would happen when new editor Sill kept writing in her column about “telling stories” rather than “reporting news”.)
    The Bee should do some national news, of course, but we all can find our in-depth national stuff online, from a variety of sources.
    What the Bee should absolutely excel at is State government news, but instead we get stories about political personalities & gossip, but little substance. Yes, there are blogs with state government news, but the Bee should be totally on top of that stuff, and they aren’t, by a long shot.
    The Bee should also, of course, be the place for real local news, not the sensationalistic fluff that fills up local television news. Once again, though, the focus seems to be on telling stories rather than actually reporting news. I’ve been a Bee subscriber for as long as I’ve lived here (over 15 years), but it’s seeming more & more pointless these days.

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  11. Lots can be accomplished in those 15-20 minutes, such as finding out if Luann will ever get over Aaron Hill, or how Brad’s date went with Toni Daytona. I read the paper for a lot of reasons, and the news isn’t always the main reason.

    Why I still read the comic strip “Luann” baffles me, because I don’t think that girl will ever have the brains of Bernice, the sass of Delta, or the fashion sense of Tiffany. But, Luann and the rest of the newspaper complete my morning.

    The Jumble and NYT crossword are fun, too. I like the comics, and I do scan the obituaries.

    What would a Sunday be without “Parade” and finding out what Howard Huge is up to, or if I can outwit Marilyn vos Savant? Who is James Brady “in step with” this week?

    It’s all part of the ritual, and I can get all of these things in one convenient and portable package — a package that works great at deterring weed growth when you lay it on the ground, wet it down, and cover it with mulch (as seen in the “Home & Garden” section.)

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  12. My parents are wont to say, “It’s a pity we don’t have a local paper.” And they subscribe to the Bee.

    If the subscribers think of it that way, what does that mean about non-subscribers?

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