We've been having an ongoing debate here in Australia about the word “newspaper.”
The debate itself stems from some self-doubt about the media in which we work. Over the past few years, newspapers have gotten a bad name. The significant shift in the way people use media has taken a toll. In many places, including Australia, we've seen people substitute other media instead of reading newspapers. At the same time, the global financial crisis saw formerly prosperous newspaper companies suffer significant financial setbacks, some even closing. The combination of these two factors has led to newspapers being identified as an old-fashioned, if not dying, medium.
And hence the discussion about whether or not we should retain the word “newspaper” to describe our business. We're not the only ones itching to change names. As media companies have broadened their offerings, they've searched for an appropriate descriptor. A television and digital network recently added the word “entertainment” to their corporate entity. Others have simply used the word “media.” The very organisation hosting this blog moved from “International Newspaper Marketing Association” to “International Newsmedia Marketing Association,” preserving the INMA acronym.
So where is the debate, you might ask? Certainly we are much more than just “news” and we publish on many platforms beyond “paper.” Why continue to refer to paper when we are being read on PCs, tablets and phones?
Campbell Reid, our national editorial director, makes the case for keeping “newspaper.” He argues that calling ourselves a news media ignores the special relationship people have with newspapers; one which is not enjoyed by television, radio, out-of-home or others.
What is that special relationship? Last year we conducted a significant research project. The findings described how people use newspapers, why they read them, why they've stopped, what they love and what they don't.
It is clear from those results that newspapers hold a special place in people's lives. They don't just entertain. Or inform. Newspapers inspire. They can change things. They help people with their day-to-day lives; finding a job, a home, a car or a mate. They provide advice on what to cook, what to read, what movie to see, what events to attend. Newspapers feed their appetite for sport, fashion, gossip and games. They help people interpret world and local events. And newspapers do these things in ways that people recognise as unique amongst other media. To give up this strength when we publish on a tablet or phone or computer, Campbell argues, is foolish.
Our research showed that people who were reading newspapers less (in print) were doing it not because they didn't like what they were getting in the paper but rather because they were simply finding that the print format was less relevant in their daily routines.
So, can the word “newspaper” still be used to describe a great iPad app or Web site? It certainly can. The word “newspaper” doesn't have to be literally descriptive as it needed to be in the 17th century. It can become part of our brand promise, fulfilling an expectation from readers, regardless of when or where or upon which device they interact with us.
But why not change the name? Isn't that what marketers do? As Juliet put the case to Romeo, “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But then, that didn't end so well did it?
So the debate continues. Moving away from “newspaper” should not be done without careful consideration. I do not believe we should rush to a new descriptor without completely understanding the power of the old.