How to Save Newspapers From Failing

The quality of the Wall Street Journal Opinion section seems to be on the slide.  That’s just my opinion.

I use to count on it weekly to provide some interesting commentary, but have found it rather blah and disappointing over the past few weeks or months.

I’m not sure if that reflects my changing tastes or an actual change in quality.  Perhaps I’m just finding higher quality writing on the blogs I visit and the quality and format of newspaper opinion columns are becoming dated.

I consider the blogs I read to be of high quality, thought-provoking and interesting.  They give fair representations of of the issue and debate the merits, not just the talking points or straw man versions of the issue.

I also like reading the comments of the blogs.  While there is a lot of noise in the comments, some comments add constructively by making valid criticism, pointing out logical errors or linking to more resources on the subject.  Also, good tools are emerging to let you filter out the noise and focus on the good comments based how other readers have rated the comments.

My idea to help newspapers become more interesting to read is to bring in content from popular blogs and the comments section of the blogs.  Instead of using its own staff of writers and editors to shape the discussion, perhaps the newspapers can report on the discussion as it happens.

I was pleased to see Forbes magazine take a step in this direction by starting to include web comments in its magazine.

I’d caution them to be careful on how they select the comments.  I’m not sure if the selection is based on editor preference or reader preference.   They appeared to be based on editor preference, which I think is a mistake and gets to the key reason why newspapers and magazines are languishing.  Editor preferences simply don’t reflect the preferences of large swaths of the population.

I imagine editors desperately want to believe they still add value and can still pick content better than consumers.  But the reality is that the web makes it easy for people to find the content that meets their preferences.

This ties back to my previous post on zero sum thinking.  Editors see their world as zero sum.  Part of the perk of their job is believing that they are a useful filter on information for their readers, but tools are emerging on the web that are much better.

If I were an editor, I’d get over that zero-sum thinking and and utilize the  market of ideas on the internet to make it a positive sum game for the newspaper, myself and readers.  I’d seek out the best content, based on reader preferences (most sites have some indication from voting on which posts and comments are well liked by readers), on  blogs and the comments section and print it.  I’d put my writers on the task of engaging the real discussion as it happens.