Newspapers are like museums — and that’s a good thing


We live in an age of ubiquitous information and just-add-water expertise. But there is nothing that compares with the presentation of significant objects in a well-told narrative. And that is what a curator does, the interpretation of a complex esoteric subject in a way that retains the integrity of the subject, but unpacks it for a general audience.” — Thomas P. Campbell, director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

The rules of the game are changing, but the concept of a newspaper endures.

Like a museum, the newspaper provides its readers with a portal on the world. The curated content allows readers to relax and be confident that they will be provided with all the news and context they want and need.

And like paying your admission fee at the museum door, newspapers in Canada are implementing online paid subscriptions — often referred to as paywalls.

I think we get off on the wrong foot with the expression “paywalls,” because this label implies a hurdle put up to keep people out. But, really, what newspapers are trying to do is bring readers in — into the content they have created. The fee is a reflection of the cost to provide the content and the experience.

Most newspapers provide a certain amount of free access before a subscription is required. This allows publishers to use the Web for what it does best: reach out across the world to provide an introduction to the experience a loyal reader gets on the inside.

In order to continue as a viable business, revenue is required to produce a quality product. It does not matter what business we are talking about.

There has been a great deal of “disruption” in the newspaper business. The introduction of a new distribution tool (the Internet), along with the technology to access it, has resulted in a massive shift in how everyone consumes everything.

Changes in how business is conducted continue at a relentlessly fast pace and in parallel with a demand that information — and everything else on the Internet — be free.

But the latter, of course, makes no sense. Newspapers are embracing all the Internet has to offer, but nothing comes for free.

In this blog we explore the issue of satisfying audiences and attempt to provide insight into how newspapers can provide readers with information they want, while remaining a relevant and valuable resource in the 21st century (and beyond).

Last August (“As reader behaviour evolves, so must the tools we use to measure it”), I cited information from our study that told us Canadians believe daily newspapers are the most credible and comprehensive news source. Television was second and the Internet was highest for comprehensiveness among young adults.

The Internet responses may actually include newspaper Web sites as we continue the uphill battle to promote the newspaper as a platform-agnostic offering.

NADbank asks Canadians which medium they rely on as their primary source for a variety of content and information. Contrary to their response that newspapers provide the most credible and comprehensive information, most adults say they turn to TV, and in many cases the Internet, for their news and information.

Why? What does this mean?

Once they arrive at the door, newspaper readers tell us they read the newspaper to read the news. This does not vary across age or gender.

Where readership differs is in the “other” content offered by the newspaper: business, entertainment, health, etc. And readership of this content varies dramatically by age and gender; older women love the health pages, and young men devour the sports and automotive coverage.

Is reading passé? I would say not. Nearly eight in 10 Canadian adults read a newspaper each week, more than half every day. Book stores are thriving online and many with bricks and mortar outlets.

Information is the new currency for success in today’s economy.

Are newspapers capitalising on how best to use new technology and distribution channels? The Internet provides new ways to consume information. All media companies are exploring new and different approaches to take advantage of the attributes of that platform: print, video, audio, interactive, or pushed information.

Is print dead? Not in the short-term. Linking print and online continues to be a winning strategy.

Success comes in providing people with what they want, in the form that they want it. It is a Twitter world: short sentences with lots of visuals, traditionally TV’s strength. Web sites provide newspapers the oppourtunity to compete in this format.

Today’s newspapers provide an experience, a brand of content, presentation, style, and context. Aggregation and blogs are not content; they are algorithms and opinions on content.

Aggregators do not put their lives in danger in war-torn countries to provide insight into political situations that readers cannot experience. And bloggers generally use the content as the source for their work.

Both these aspects of news-gathering are important and valuable, but they are not the foundation of what readers are looking for. The news comes first, then the context and colour.

All this has a price: the cost to pay good journalists and a price to purchase and employ the technology to make all this available to readers. Loyal readers understand this. Paid subscription models seem inevitable. But they are a consequence, not an end game. Without a business model, there is no newspaper.

We buy tickets for the exhibitions at the museum and, for the really excellent exhibitions, we stand in line to get in!

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.