Why Rewrite?
Newspapers are in trouble. Readers are straying in record numbers as papers become less essential to their lives. This blog will explore where we've gone wrong and what we're doing right, with an eye toward REWRITING THE FUTURE of newspapers.


Search Rewrite!

Got links?

[ Media Weblogs ]
+ EditorsWeblog.org
+ Media Savvy
+ Prints the Chaff
+ J-Log
+ Hypergene MediaBlog
+ Media Minded
+ First Draft
+ The Scoop
+ Rhethorica
+ Infomaniac
+ Journolist
+ MediaScape Blog
+ NewsDesigner Blog

[ Industry News ]
+ Romenesko
+ Daily Briefing
+ I Want Media
+ AP Industry News
+ Yahoo Media News
+ Editor & Publisher

[ Organizations ]
+ Readership Institute
+ API/NDN MediaCenter
+ NAA Readership
+ Poynter
+ Concerned Journalists/PEJ
+ Pew Center
+ Headline Club
+ Medill School of Journalism
+ World Association of Newspapers

[ Online ]
+ E-Media Tidbits
+ Online Publishers
+ NAA Digital Edge
+ DaveNet

[ Design ]
+ NewsPageDesigner
+ Edward Tufte
+ Jakob Nielsen
+ Today's Front Pages
+ Typography museum

[ Chicagoland ]
+ Hot Type
+ Press Box
+ ChiMedEx
+ Chicago Newspapers


Who's rewriting?
This adventure into journalistic ideas and sausage-making brought to you by a group of journalists with ties to the Newspaper Management Program at the Medill School of Journalism:
  • MO | Meg O'Brien is associate business editor at the Chicago Tribune. She's dabbled in online, keeps her hand in design, did the metro reporting thing and teaches occassionally at Medill. E-mail her.

  • DS | A copy editor at The Daily News Hole, a Midwestern major metro daily. As an 18- to 34-year-old, he is highly sought after by media outlets and advertisers. When not shoveling copy, he enjoys traveling, cooking and spending quality time with his iBook or TiVo.

Finding Rewrite!
Actual search terms used to find this site:

+ Mike Tyson's Tattoo Pic
+ Medill any good?
+ adult movie Fashionista
+ "Take cover, here come Mediasaurus"
+ sausage making receipts
+ Bat Boy T-shirts
+ www.edwardtufte.com
+ "spark interactive" comic creator
+ selling a sunday newspaper to a media planner
+ elvis costello t-shirts
+ pictures of operations at hospitals
+ "Dixie Redfearn"
+ Washington Post pressman union strike
+ racine
+ gannett thrive boise
+ star trek miniskirts
+ today's front pages
+ "typography musueum" london
+ lynn upshaw usa today
+ chicago rewrite service
+ francois dufour, editor
+ sleeve marijuana tatto pic
+ research paper-interesting topics
+ www.newspagedesigner
+ why rewrite papers
+ blog fashion hosiery
+ "Chicago Tribune" "youth publication"
+ mediapost kids
  + "societal influence" AND newspaper
   + dirty tattoo pic 
+ free copy of Marijuana Growers Guide Deluxe
  + status update evan and zora
   + "mon quotidien" pay bac 
  + newspaper sun for san bernandino
   + Enquirer Bat boy T-shirts
+ Rich Ramhoff


Sunday, February 08, 2004
READY OR NOT | Digital paper is right around the corner -- and I don't think newspapers are ready for it.

Phillips Electronics announced at the end of January that it is ready to begin mass-producing a flexible display panel on to which users can download text and images, then roll it up and take with them -- much like tucking a newspaper under your arm. The February edition of the journal Nature Materials features a big cover story on the arrival of the long-awaited technology.

The first models have a display area of about five inches and can roll up into a case the size of a pen. It can be updated through connections to your computer or cell phone -- fetching you the latest Web pages, e-mail, books or news. Expect to see them on the market by 2005, say folks at Phillips who expect to make a million a year by then. "It's no longer a research project," one spokesman told Reuters.

Sure the first versions will be small, expensive, low-quality, short of memory and quick to run out of juice, but we'll be seeing a product that can hold a newspaper -- or rival it, with features like video -- within a couple years.

Our portability is the one key feature that no other technology has been able to match in all these years. It has kept us viable even while other mediums spread news and advertising faster, on more levels. Digital paper will change that, I think.

I wouldn't mind seeing the industry work toward something like the digital paper portrayed in the movie Minority Report. One scene featured a digital version of USA Today that looked more like a newspaper than a Web site, but changed as news developed. Something that wouldn't be hard to do today in a Wi-Fi hot zone. Add GPS to the mix and you could have ads appear in your paper for stores and restaurants within walking distance -- or local news for your neighborhood or about the businesses or institutions (or people!) you drive or walk by.

The possibilities are endless, really. But, I don't see any signs that we're thinking about this potentially fundamental change at all. Newspaper Web sites, for the most part, are still secondary and still run on a morning/lunch/afternoon news-cycle. Our newsrooms (and people) are not organized/prepared to publish constantly. Are we going to give away the technology or wait for people to buy their own digital papers? Do we know how sell location-specific advertising/base rates on radius? How are we going to design/present the news on these things? And, perhaps most importantly, how are we going to make money? Sure we'll save a mint on newsprint, but people still equate "digital" with "free."

That's a lot to think about. And since we didn't exactly bolt out of the gates with this Internet thing, I think it's time to get crackin'.
[ 4:00 AM | Posted by Ms. M ]

Sunday, January 11, 2004
ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL | U.K. newspaper The Independent increased circulation by 8.7 percent in the last three months by offering the same, identical newspaper in both broadsheet and tabloid formats.

The long-time broadsheet introduced a complete tabloid version of itself at the end of the September, targeting commuters in London and others who prefer the more easily flippable, compact size. The Independent claims it's the "first time in publishing history" that readers have been given a choice of formats.

I can't think of any others doing this, but I can think of many metros that should. Great idea. You've got to design your paper for how, when and where people use it. And several hundred thousand readers, obviously, don't all use it the same way. What a great way to grab more readers -- with the same content.

Ivan Fallon, the CEO of Independent News & Media, said in a release for a World Association Newspapers conference that the paper made the move to go after women, younger readers and commuters.

The tabloid edition, or the "compact" as they call it, sold 58,643 a day in December, up from 46,568 in November. (Before the launch, daily circulation of the broadsheet was about 178,000.) But despite the compact's popularity, Fallon said there are no plans to do away with the broadsheet because the company doesn’t want to lose the readers who are satisfied with it.

“If you walk into a supermarket and you want to buy a tube of Colgate toothpaste, you can get it in four different sizes," Fallon said.

While most broadsheets routinely print tab inserts, sections and special sections it may pose an operations challenge to do both on deadline if presses are near capacity. But the Independent's early numbers show this may be a problem worth solving.

Meanwhile, other papers in the U.K. are taking note. The Times of London followed suit in December, according to an article at Poynter.
[ 4:46 PM | Posted by Ms. M ]

Sunday, September 07, 2003
NEW FORMULA FOR SUCCESS ? | Just got back for the Society of Newspaper Design convention in Washington D.C. where Juan Antonio Giner, a partner at Innovation International Media Consulting Group, tried to talk some sense into us about the role of newspapers.

He was harsh. But we needed to hear it.

His biggest criticism was that newspapers continue to clutch to the role they played in the past and are not adapting to people's changing information needs.

If people want to know what's going on now, TV, radio or the Web will serve them best. We come out once a day and cannot possibly compete in breaking news. When we cover an event, readers don't see our stories and photographs for eight to 24 hours. Yet, Giner estimates that 90 percent of the content in today's newspaper focuses on what happened yesterday.

Instead, Giner said, we have to focus most of efforts on telling people what's coming next. His recipe for a successful newspaper of the future: 20 percent past, 30 percent today and 50 percent tomorrow.

My quick analysis here (green=future-oriented; tan=today; red=past) of a few papers from today shows we're looking to the future more than Giner suggests. Some of my green boxes were generous, though. But, then again, these are Sunday papers and tend to be more analytical and forward-looking -- I wonder if that has any relationship to the fact that Sunday papers are also our best-sellers.

I'll do this analysis again Tuesday. I'm curious to look at the difference on the weekdays. Though I dispute his measurement of the depth of the problem, I think he's on to something. Looking at stories through a past-present-future filter did help me see that even in cases where are telling forward-looking stories, we often spend the first 12 graphs somewhere in the past stuck in an anecdote somewhere.

We have to give readers what the haven't heard or seen before -- and not make them wade through old news to get to it -- if we are to be valuable and useful. As Giner said, newspapers "need to find news, not record it."


[ 2:12 PM | Posted by Ms. M ]

Saturday, August 30, 2003
FREE MARKET RESEARCH IN THE BLOGOSPHERE | Boy I hate to see weblog headlines like: Newspapers are boring, Why I don't read newspapers, How to make fishwrap, or I hate newspapers!

Even journalists are out there blogging their tales of self-loathing.

Meanwhile, newspapers are spending some serious money exploring ways to hold on to readers. The percentage of U.S. adults who read a newspaper on any given day has dropped from nearly 80 percent in 1964 to 54 percent in 1997. Don't have more recent numbers, but we have not made notable progress, if any, in reversing the trend.

Interesting that the industry's major studies and the small sampling of weblogs above come to pretty much the same conlcusions. Readers get annoyed with us when we: are inky and smudgy, rehash old news, are too thick and too hard to wade through, behave unethically, overwrite and waste people's time, aren't engaging or interesting or don't deliver on time. They especially dislike us when we call at dinner to ask them if they want to subscribe.

Columnist Dave Barry was able to gather some additional free market research from an 8th grade class in this classic column on newspaper readership and young people. These students advised us to:

  • ''I don't like reading about death, war and government. Write about things that we can relate to.''
  • ''Make the newspaper more humorous, it is soooo boring. Talk about skateboarding, it is so huge now you don't even know.''
  • ''Talk about not boring stuff. Like the peace thing. It's very important, I understand that. But it's boring.''
  •  ''When you talk about this stuff make it interesting. Like when we kill a terrorist, don't just say he died, say he blew up in a million pieces."
OK, so not all market research can be done through blogs. But when's the last time a newspaper got really useful information from a $100,000-plus consultant research project?

At least this advice is free.
[ 2:57 PM | Posted by Ms. M ]

Thursday, August 28, 2003
WHAT NEXT? A 33? | Headlines in UK newspaper The Guardian this week posed a couple of wonderfully titillating questions: "A newspaper revolution? Could the idea change the press forever?"

The paper's Big Idea is to toss a CD containing supplemental information in with the paper -- which makes the answer to these questions a resounding "no."

What with all the boasting, The Guardian's plan to circulate an additional CD-based "section" in the paper the last Sunday of each month at first blush almost seemed like an innovation. But, of course, it's not.

The disc, which will be called "The Month," will contain extra material, including 25,000 words of text, movie and music clips, filmed interviews, DVD offers, games previews and listings -- things the newspaper can already provide online for a lot less money.

The Guardian is also quite late to the party. Last year the Chicago Tribune gave away a CD time capsule to commemorate the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. While it was well-done and successful -- it boosted single copy street sales by 100,000 -- I haven't looked at it since. I can't imagine what people would do with something like that every month. I've got a drawer full of CDs that came with the guitar and computer magazines I've bought throughout the years. Never use them, never will.
[ 2:03 AM | Posted by Ms. M ]

Thursday, August 07, 2003
IDEA DROUGHT? | Each year I look forward to the results of the Tomorrow's Newspaper design contest sponsored by the University of Missouri.

The contest solicits entries for prototypes of ideas that would make newspapers better. Some interesting ideas have emerged during the five years the contest has been around, but the well appears to have run dry.

This year's pickings were slim. In fact, there were no winners in the professional category because "the judges felt none of the entries exhibited the innovation necessary for recognition." What's worse, then contest has been cancelled for the future.

How depressing is that? Nobody working in the business had one idea this year to make newspapers better? Sell any stock you have in non-diversified, convergence-averse newspaper companies -- we're doomed.

In looking back at the winners, I do see a common, alarming theme: news put on other products, not newspapers. Students and professionals suggested news on pens, watches and ATM receipts. One contest entry may have even been the inspiration for the short-lived, widely mocked CueCat experiment.

But, there were some good newspaper-focused ideas, like this flip paper, too. And that's why I hate to see this contest go. Surely, there must be ways to shake out ideas each year on how to retool the presentation and content of newspapers.
[ 11:08 PM | Posted by Ms. M ]

Sunday, June 29, 2003
FUN WITH FEATURES | I really love the Washington Post's new Sunday features section called Sunday Source. It's fun, useful and easy to read.

The pitch to advertisers is a little cheesy -- defining the section as one "created for young, energetic and self-actualizing D.C., Maryland and Virginia adults who ... place a huge importance on actively spending their downtime doing exactly what they want with the people they want." Then the Post advises, "Don’t get in their way."

But, the content is good. Each week the section contains these short features:

  • Gatherings: A feature on entertaining at home with a recipe.
  • Real Deals: A look at new gadgets you can buy.
  • Tell Me About It: A short advice column.
  • 15 Minutes: A quick how-to project. One showed how the make a room screen.
  • The Look: Shows what people are wearing out on the streets, paired with "Style Q" fashion Q&A and another column by and expert "Fashionista."
  • Media Mix: A look at new movie and video releases for the week.
  • The Week: An extensive guide to events and entertainment throughout the Washington area.
They debuted it a month or two ago and I expect it will be successful. Check out some more pages at the bottom of the post.

It's possible that I'm smitten with it because it's so similar to our Medill Your Saturday project implemented by the Times of Northwest Indiana in October 1999. The section became the best-read feature section of the week, drove Saturday retail ad sales up 200 percent and boosted Saturday single-copy sales 8 percent -- all sustained during three year-plus run.

We pitched a section that focuses on what people do on Saturdays -- chores, shopping, family and fun. The cover features "Best Bets" for things to do that day, a people feature, a project to do with kids and the dominant element is a guide to what else is inside. Inside we had a One-Tank Trip, a Shop! page, a coupon page featuring discounts on Saturday chores like oil changes, a Go Guide calendar, Dinner & A Movie double truck of movie and restaurant reviews, Dinner & A Video recipes and movie reviews for those that stay in, a pet page among other features.


[ 4:01 PM | Posted by Ms. M ]

Monday, April 07, 2003
REDEYE WATCH | The Chicago Tribune today announced it will begin offering home delivery of the RedEye April 14.

While I still don't think the paper is being all it can be, I think this is a great strategic move. It's not unlike Play BAC Presse's strategy, outlined in the post below -- an age-targeted specialty paper delivered at home.

A Tribune spokeswoman told MediaPost that home delivery will cost $1 per week -- a slight discount from the $1.25 it would cost you to pick it up each day on the newsstand. And, subscribers can get the regular, adult Sunday Chicago Tribune for another $1. Not a bad deal.

And what young hipster can turn down this kind of aren't-you-cool marketing: "Now, get RedEye delivered early enough in the morning so you can pick it up as you walk in from the night before."

Other interesting numbers RedEye is claiming: 100,000 daily readers, 120 new advertisers and 800 surveys each day to guage how readers liked the cover and paper.

[ 11:42 PM | Posted by Ms. M ]

Sunday, March 16, 2003

GETTING KIDS HOOKED | Beyond this recent race for 18- to 34-year-olds, American newspapers still fret the youngest generations are not developing the habit. And when you flip through -- especially their "kid pages" -- there can be little confusion as to why that is. There's nothing there for the vast majority of young readers on any given day.

By running a weekly kids section -- usually a colorful, comic-y, tid-bitty, non-newsy page or two that also contains puzzles and games -- most newspapers think they're covering the bases for all readers younger than 18. For 14-year-olds these sections are insulting and they wouldn't be caught dead reading one. For 5-year-olds it's probably too advanced. It might be just right for a few 7-year-olds.

So, one one day a week, most of us take a shot at serving a few kids in one grade. Not the best strategy for future growth.

The Washington Post is taking it more seriously with a daily KidsPost page. They take stories in the news and rewrite them in terms of their relevance to a younger audience. I remember one from a recent trip about the West Coast port strike. The adult version talked about negotiations and union deadlines; the kid version warned that Christmas toys may come late. It's really well done, but I still think it's too hard to create one page that serves both 8-year-olds and 13-year-olds.

Play BAC Presse in France is trying the age-group approach and having some success. The company produces home-delivered daily newspapers -- Tuesday through Saturday -- aimed at specific age groups. It claims a circulation of 170,000 for its first three -- Le Petit Quotidien (ages 7 to 9), Mon Quotidien (ages 10 to 13) and L’actu (ages 14+) -- and expects the fourth added in January targeting ages 5 to 7 will add another 30,000.

Hmmm, I can think of some American newspapers who'd like to pick up another 200,000 subscribers. Since ABC allows these separate editions to be counted as part of total circulation, this may be an option.

There is no advertising in the French model, it's all subscription. My French isn't good enough for me to discern the price, but it seems to be growing and healthy. Having it as a separate edition, I think, is brilliant. It makes it seem special and gives kids something to look forward to. “Among other things, children as young as 5 already love to receive mail everyday,” said François Dufour, editor of all four newspapers.

My idea: Beyond specialized publications, I wonder if we can't do more in the daily. I'd like to see "Kid summaries" included as breakouts for most major stories. They would be a sentence or two simplifying a complex story and summarizing why it's news. With these translation boxes everywhere, kids can feel like they have access to the whole newspaper. And, it may help some light readers who want a quick update without thinking too hard.
[ 11:57 AM | Posted by Ms. M ]

Thursday, March 13, 2003
THE BRITISH ARE DUMBING | Down their newspapers, that is. The Economist on March 6 carried an interesting article about plummeting newspaper readership -- and advertising -- in Britain.

The Economist article claims newspaper readership has dropped off 20 percent since 1990, citing the National Readership Survey, the British equivalent of the Readership Institute in the United States.

Like their American counterparts, the British papers are particularly concerned that young readers don't seem to be picking up the habit. According to the article, the number of newspaper readers under the age of 24 has shrunk by more than a third since 1990 as young Britons increasingly grab news online, or from television or radio.

When they do read newspapers, they tend to like the ones without much news -- and newspapers have been quick to accommodate their tastes.

The Economist reports the only three daily tabloids that bucked the circulation decline in the second half of 2002 focused on entertainment "news." The Daily Star writes almost exclusively about celebs -- with headlines like “Kylie's bum is so yum” -- and its circulation shot up 17 percent. When not writing about bum-yum, the paper is engaging in more meaningful public service through its "Babes" section and by selecting the official five worst blonde jokes.

This pandering isn't shocking. But that it's worsening in an effort to attract young readers in Britain is particularly depressing. That was one country where newspaper readership has always been high -- supporting nearly a dozen daily, national titles in spite of fierce, scrappy competition.

[ 12:05 AM | Posted by Ms. M ]

Monday, February 24, 2003
JUST LIKE MEXICAN FOOD | It's been a couple of months since I looked at a RedEye but after they installed four more boxes in my neighborhood I felt surrounded and picked up a couple last week. I quickly remembered why they annoy me so much.

The Chicago Tribune has gone through considerable time and effort looking for a way to reach the underserved and disinterested 18-34 demographic. Yet, for the most part, all they're doing is repackaging the same news most papers give to the masses. They're taking burritos and making soft tacos -- same ingredients, same taste, different form.

If you're truly trying to reach a different market -- a market that you've identified has different interests and priorities -- doesn't it make sense that you would have different content?

RedEye has attempted the occasional original story. They did one on how it's difficult to park in Chicago (that's news?) and they did another Friday about the upcoming Chicago city elections. The election article focused how voting may have slipped the minds of young people because they're thinking about things like "Gotta get to the gym ... am I hot? ... Tyson's tattoo ... and will Evan and Zora get married?"

The RedEye could have done a great youth-centric election issue, questioning incumbent Mayor Richard Daley and other mayoral candidates on what they would do for young people in the city and/or ask for their positions on city services most used by the young. Or, they could have have looked at the youngest aldermanic candidates and why they are getting involved in government. Or, they could have examined why there isn't anyone under 40 involved in Chicago politics.

But no, they gave us a few man-on-the street shots of three white young guys saying that voting is a good thing, directions on how to register to vote (even though it's too late to do so for this election) and a story that starts with this lead: "You may not know it, but there is an election Tuesday."

Well, if the RedEye thinks its readers are that ignorant about the election why write about it at all? Or at least given them a ward map to help them figure which aldermanic race they're blowing off.

If the RedEye really wants to attract young readers, it needs to serve them. That means being their voice and writing stories about their issues -- stories that supposedly aren't already out there for them in traditional newspapers. Taking stories from the big people's paper and cutting them in half doesn't serve anybody.

• LostRemote contributors says repurposing is journalism.
• U of Texas prof on how "repurposing" became a dirty word.
• Ingredients for Mexican food from MexGrocer.com.

[ 8:52 PM | Posted by Ms. M ]

Wednesday, February 19, 2003
AUSSIES EYE REDS | Even editors in Australia are watching Chicago's Red tabloids as they try to figure out how to get young people to read newspapers. They're having the same problem.

These tabs are getting a lot of attention. It's too bad they aren't better.

[ 8:03 PM | Posted by Ms. M ]

Monday, February 17, 2003
TALKING TO READERS | I've listened to a few presentations now from the folks at Northwestern University's Readership Institute about the findings of its national survey of 37,000 newspaper readers and what they want from us.

Sure, they want it all. But one thing they crave in particular is communication. In fact, readers are willing to forgive many of our failings if we just explain the situation or give them a chance to know us better.

At the Hoosier State Press Association conference in December, researcher Steve Duke encouraged newspapers to actively promote upcoming features and stories, casting aside fear that we might not be able to deliver the story on the promised day. "In that case, you just have to tell them when it will run. Readers are forgiving, all they ask for is communication about what happened and what's next. ... Newspapers just don't do that now. They leave readers guessing."

The editors at the Journal-Times in Racine, Wis. recently have taken steps to stop the guessing and reveal a bit of themselves to readers in a new a Web log, called Inside the J-T.

So far, editors have used the forum to: explain policies about slowing political coverage in the days before an election; give insight into how the paper interacts with other subsidiaries of the parent company; talk about decisions to cover stories outside of Racine; and even answer reader questions about why stories sometimes appear differently on the Web than they do in print; among other topics.

As important, though, the blog solicits comments so readers can give their own feedback. I think it's a great mechanism for this important dialog. Every newspaper should have one.

[ 9:55 PM | Posted by Ms. M ]

Thursday, February 06, 2003
HISTORICAL IMPORTANCE | This site is dedicated to moving newspapers forward, but today I had fun looking back when an article on a Virginia group getting a grant to digitalize Civil-War era newspapers caught my eye and led me to a small archive that already exists at the University of Virginia.

The university's Valley of the Shadow Project has transcribed or summarized hundreds of stories from five newspapers of the era -- two from Virginia, three from Pennsylvania. The papers have some interesting historical information and provide a fascinating glimpse into life at the time. Interestingly, the curators of the project suggested that these papers had their own problems with relevance -- even when there was no competition from TV, radio, magazines and the Internet.

    Curators: "The papers of the nineteenth century, however, may be an even more important source of information for those of us investigating the past than they were for those who lived in it. In the nineteenth century, as today, individuals shared information in many nonliterate and informal ways -- by word of mouth in the church, the household, the workplace."
Wow, were we ever relevant?

Even more interesting than the articles are the actual digitized pages. They're hard to read, but still quite interesting. You can look at a few here, here, here or here.

My absolute favorite find was a small item at the bottom of the Republican Vindicator of Nov. 25, 1859 -- it struck me as somewhat innovative in terms of subscription payment models. Currently, this is a hot issue at newspaper companies as papers try to get subscribers to convert to automatic-billing methods like credit cards or direct debit to reduce costs, cut churn and, I think, obscure how much a subscription actually costs. The Vindicator's alternate payment method of choice, however, was wood. And in that cold November, it put in a notice that someone needed someone to step up and pay their bill.

[ 11:57 PM | Posted by Ms. M ]

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