Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Humbling Experiences - Becoming Relevant

"Life is a long lesson in humility"   James M Barrie

Sailing quietly off our mooring, headed for Pulpit Harbor Saturday afternoon, I learned a well-kept secret about Camden Harbor. There is a ledge tucked among six moored boats northeast of Curtis Island. Yes, there is a green can to the east marking an area to be avoided, but a patch of water full of moored boats does not suggest danger. I know differently now.

I called the Camden harbormaster on Channel 16. Jim Leo came out, assessed the situation and advised my wife, Kathrin, and me to sit atop the ledge and wait for the rising tide to float us off, rather than getting dragged back into open water and risk ripping the hull. We heeded his advice, and 90 minutes later we sailed out to our rendezvous with friends Chris and Charlotte Beebe in Pulpit Harbor.

While waiting for what seemed to be a long tide-change, I thought about another humbling experience – our inability to keep our printed newspapers relevant to all our citizenry. I know we are not alone. Around the globe, the decline of readership of printed professional journalism is startling. I am humbled. I should be able to figure this out.

In our case, it seems that our success serving more than 150,000 unique monthly visitors on our online Digital Main Street in Knox and Waldo counties has created a perception for a growing number of folks that there is no need to pick up our printed products. With 150,000 unique visitors in a community of 80,000 we know we are delivering relevant content. And we are doing so not just for those who live here, but to folks worldwide who are connected to our area through family and friends or because they visit here and want to keep up with what's happening.

The popularity of our bizMember program, with more than 400 local businesses using our platform to provide timely answers to their clients, is further evidence that we are relevant. These anchors of our local economy see that the news they post is viewed 200 to sometimes 1,000 times and they tell us about the increased traffic across their thresholds.

All of us will continue to read printed matter. It serves a valuable purpose, different from online. Print provides what I call leisurely treats, for the young and the old. Print allows news, features, analysis, opinion and ads to be displayed in a way that invites the reader to discover. This is why print advertising, the historic and future subsidizer of professional journalism, is so effective. Print uses compelling graphics and words to invite the leisurely reader to discover the value of our advertisers' products and to imagine a future with them.

Online serves the person seeking timely answers. The Internet has made timely answers available on demand, 24/7, clean and simple. No need for fancy graphics to attract attention. When seeking a vote outcome, game score, details of a tragedy or celebration, a specific house, a favorite food, an entertaining experience or a special piece of clothing, we all head directly online to find it. But we are not always on task and are always potential consumers. It is during our moments of leisurely reflection that we are moved from potential to actual. Print has and still serves us at these times.

A second compelling reason to continue to read printed matter is evidenced by anecdotal evidence from Jack Shafer, former Slate Magazine media critic and current Reuters columnist. Shafer described his experience dropping his annual $640 New York Times print subscription and then resubscribing a year later.

Shafer said: “What I really found myself missing was the news. Even though I spent ample time clicking through the Times website and the Reader, I quickly determined that I wasn't recalling as much of the newspaper as I should be. Going electronic had punished my powers of retention. I also noticed that I was unintentionally ignoring a slew of worthy stories.”

He said: “My anecdotal findings about print's superiority were seconded earlier this month by an academic study presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.”

I downloaded the study to which Shafer referred — "Medium Matters: Newsreaders' Recall and Engagement With Online and Print Newspapers" written by Arthur D. Santana, Randall Livingstone, and Yoon Cho of the University of Oregon. The study asked questions of two groups, each comprising approximately 22 individuals. One group had perused the printed New York Times, the other had browsed the paper’s accompanying website.

Both groups answered questions on the extent to which the news stories made an impression. The study showed that print newsreaders remembered significantly more topics than online newsreaders and recalled more main points.

The research suggests that online readers tend to scan stories while print readers are more methodical in their reading. Also, newspapers offer news stories with more depth than online stories. Further explanations relate to the scattershot nature of the online news story coupled with its fleeting nature. These facts indicate that the online news consumer’s experience is quite different than that of the print consumer's experience. New York Times best-selling author Nicholas Carr reflects on the work of Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s, pointing out that the Internet not only supplies the stuff of thought but it also shapes the process of thought.

Carr says, “And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away at my capacity for concentration and contemplation.”

A common explanation for lack of impression of online news relates to the lack of salient cues, such as story placement and prominence which guide the reader in print.

This research suggests that our print product, to remain relevant, must move beyond being a primary source of timely answers and become a source of leisurely treats. Our Digital Main Street is serving you well in this regard. Yet we need relevant print products to sustain our journalists digging for the timely answers we provide online. These products will move beyond timely answers and feed the curiosity and openness to discovery in all of us. We are dedicated to developing these products. They will be focused on niches of curiosity. They will each be published less frequently so that we can take the time to compose and display compelling leisurely treats. And our advertisers will want to be there providing you with their versions of the same.

1 comment:

  1. Nice,
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