Sunday, 26 October 2008

Ten Tips For a Big Newspaper to Survive

This comes from me...simply a reader....a vast reader....of newspapers. I don't own a newspaper....and probably would never be stupid enough to walk in and lay claim to one. After years of observation and the recent trend of newspaper failures....its obvious that something is going wrong. The dominant nature of papers died out in the 1960s as TV started to arrive in everyone's home. Count in the arrival of the internet in the 1990s....its pretty hard to see survival with the current roof that newspapers have over their heads.

So my ten bits of advice (geared toward papers in towns of 100,000 residents):

First. Don't take any side on any political debate. Simply be factual with what the political dimwits say and leave it at that. If you end up as a Democratic mouth-piece....your conservative readers will dump you. If you act like a Republican mouth-piece....your liberal friends will dump you. Stay out of the discussion of partisan politics. Election year? Just report what they say and stay neutral. Its real simple to do.

Second. Drop editorial pages. The bulk of editorials today are crap. Its fifteen lines of chatter that really don't explain the problem at hand or the fix. You simply take up space and give the high and mighty opinion of the editor or the owner of the paper. Its space wasted. The majority of folks who buy the paper.....don't even read the editorial.....ever.

Third. Put real reporters out on the street to cover the police department, crime, and city hall. That measly one page of local stuff you put out each day? It ought to be double. The Sunday local section? It ought to be four pages. The locals want real local news. They can't get that via CNN or Fox or Newsweek. Give them the local stuff.

Fourth. Local sports matter. Every single day ought to be an entire page of local sports from the high schools to the local college. Interviews, pictures, and statistics ought to be the norm.

Fifth. Every Sunday edition ought to have a half-page dedicated to local history, and another half-page loaded with images of the area from years past. Folks want to find out why Main Street ends here and Carter Avenue starts there. Get a local historian involved and dig up photos from the locals to share each Sunday.

Sixth. Pick out a local and ask ten silly questions. Put forth some humor on occasion which can be appreciated. Most communities have natural comedians....make use of them.

Seventh. If your paper is read by the 100,000 folks of that city....its read by another 100,000 folks who live outside of the town....and maybe in rural sections. They just might have interests in agriculture, gardening, and crops. Get yourself a real ag reporter on the staff...some kid from Auburn....and make use of him.

Eight. Don't let a single mayor, congressman, senator or judge sleep with you. The minute that you let them in the front door....they want preferred criticism. They want you to write love letters to them each month. They want nice coverage that makes them look like a $60 whore. Keep them at a distance and give them simple fair coverage. If they get caught in your reporters snare....give them ample warning that you will publish. If they attempt to buy you off...smile and say "no". Keep things simple.

Nine. Keep good reporters who do their job. Dump the ones who have no ethics. Buy lunch for the guys monthly and mentor them. Ask for the best and demand it.

Ten. You want local folks to buy the local paper and read the local news. Every reader matters. Once you hook them....they stay on the subscription for life. Once you irritate them....they never return. For each 100 readers you lose through stupidity or slanting news for a political party....its money out of your pocket. Why be that stupid?

Thats my two cents of advice. Will anyone of these guys listen? I doubt it. They used to be able to afford mistakes. With less banking credit and higher expectations by the credit organizations....I'm thinking something has to change.

Mass Movements: Continued (#2)

Eric Hoffer wrote True Believer in 1951. Through years of personal analysis....he came to envision how people shift masses into formation and create massive movements in society, government, and religion.

Eric wrote: A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business.

It was a curious moment of analysis. By shifting an entire group around and getting focused on other's problems or affairs....they were united.

If you go back to August and read an article by Robert Samuelson.....there is an interesting analysis goes hand in hand with Eric Hoffer's concept of mass movements: "clustered in communities of sameness, among people with similar ways of life, beliefs, and, in the end, politics. Republican fundamentalists congregate with other Republican fundamentalists. Liberal Democrats herd with other liberal Democrats. Environmentalists decamp to Portland, Ore. Child-centered Republican families move to the exurbs of Dallas and Minneapolis."

By 2000, there was a mass movement underway to shift a focus toward the conservative side of America. We needed to ensure the right judges got on the Supreme Court. We needed to ensure that our schools were doing the right thing. We needed to keep taxes in the right prospective. We needed to keep our military strong. Throughout that entire election year....both parties did alot to keep us focused on the problems of others. In the end....George Bush became president and kept the Eric Hoffer concept going for eight years.

What Eric never calculated about in the 1950s....was the power of the mainstream press and the continual slant that could go either way in a talk of news facts (which basically have dissolved away today).

Mass Movement is simple. I can start a story today....get it into the right points of the press, and push the Mass Movement in various directions. I can ensure a Alaskan governor gets great press on a Monday, and by Friday....dump her completely with stories of her $150k New York City wardrobe. I can wipe up a Mass Movement to question one candidate over his actual birth certificate, or question another about his patriotism.

We are mere feathers in the wind with the significant breeze of Mass Movement all around us.

Eric thought Mass Movement could take months or years to achieve some success. In today's environment, you can do it in a matter of 24 hours.

We stand here in 2008....with another Mass Movement in front of us. It doesn't matter which you pick....its a Mass Movement. One side will tell you of the problems with the Supreme Court, the liberal congress, the lack of security in America, and the impending tax doom that will come.

The other side will court us with sweet talk of universal healthcare for everyone, redistribution of tax revenue to help the working class, the end of the war, and "change" (a magical term that could mean anything).

We are left with some Mass Movement that we are now voting for....feeling good about this guy or that guy....hoping for a miracle to shift us out of this rut.

Sometime in two weeks....we'll be told by the media who won, or who should have won. They'll tell us of cheated moments or perceived threats to democracy. We'll have little men of knowledge or intelligence who show wonderfully colored red and blue displays of reality. The numbers, the numbers, the numbers.....it'll be a chorus like the musical Oklahoma....just fancier.

Eric Hoffer didn't really have a sense of humor....he was too busy thinking and pondering. If he were around today....he'd likely be laughing so hard that tears would fall.

We'll missing something. We wander into Mass Movements, and then wander out. We don't have a grasp of anything beyond what the "hot bullet" of the day is from your friendly CNN news team. We dance to tunes that come and go....but never remember the music. We want some perfect NFL game to come, where the good guys win and everyone talks of Vince Lombardi....but we accept some third-rate game with good graphics as a good substitute. We'd like to smoke a true Cuban cigar next year, walk into the clinic with a universal health card, and discover some magical "change"....but then wake up from the dream to find little of our dream in reality.

This is the America of my front porch....welcome to it.

My Village in the News

A small event occurred in the last couple of days in my village here in Germany (Mehlingen). It actually got the town mentioned in the regional press...and I'd speculate we get mentioned in the national news shortly.

We had some idiot father, who had lost his license for unknown reasons, who had a scooter out on the streets of the village last week. Legally....he's in trouble already....but the accident he had...is pretty serious. He had the scooter out with his 6-year old son on the rear. The dad was drunk. At some point, he runs into a bunch of garbage cans and then hits some barrier or wall.

Dad is a bit injured but the kid is thrown from the bike with several injuries (of course, no helmet, or so we are told).

Dad gets up....drunk (cops measured 30 minutes later when they arrived.....he was 1.1......at around .06 the guy would be considered unfit for driving). He stood up and looked at the bike and the kid crying, then starts to stumble away. Apparently there were at least one or two witnesses to this accident and he knew they would call the cops.

He walks back to his house and just sits there. The kid is still back at the accident....with a couple of townsfolk tending him. Naturally, they call the cops. They come.....do the test.....and arrest him. I'm guessing the guy's wife didn't readily bail him out and he's still in jail today (Sunday).

Charges? Well....drunken driving and leaving an accident would normally just be total loss of a license and a heavy fine. The courts hate to jail anyone because its just wasting good jail space for real criminals. In this case....since the guy already had the license revoked and he left the kid there in the street.....I'm guessing he'll get two or three months of jail time. The judge might ask for the bike to be removed from the premises. The wife? Well.....if I were her.....I'd dispatch the guy with a handy frying pan, but this is Germany where things go differently.

Its a curious thing about alcoholics in Germany. I often hear Germans who want to chatter up about all of the alcohol abuse in the US, and all the drunks that we allow out on the streets of the US. After living here for fifteen years....I'll testify to the fact that just as many Germans drink excessively here.....while most drink and just walk back to their house in a total state of drunkenness....thus avoiding the car. Five or six stout German beers in two hours...and most guys are fairly wasted....toss in three shots of something special....and you've got a guy who spent $25 at the bar and is really "tanked".

The loser in this entire story? The kid. At six, he can't trust this dimwit father of his ever again. The guy wouldn't stay with him at the accident and immediately ran when he got scared. Thats the sad part about this story.

Mass Movements and How They Work


So begins an interesting topic series that I will blog on....Mass Movements and how they work.

The centerpiece? Eric Hoffer in the 1940s wrote a reasonably short piece called "The True Believer". It should never have been printed....Eric really wasn't that great of a writer....but someone saw material in the book that demanded absolute analysis...which is what Eric could do very well.

The book? Well....it ended being printed and even President Eisenhower required the inner members of his staff to read the book.

Hoffer does some fascinating analysis...looking at positive self-esteem and then turning it around...the consequence of lack of self-esteem. He centered this entire focus around Joe Stalin and Adolf Hitler. The analysis is simple....a fanatic who believes in his self-righteousness....really has self-hatred, self-doubt, and lots of insecurity. Hoffer's analysis leads to people who want to make up or compensate for what they have....using mass movements to achieve their status.

Hoffer is quiet fair about this....he could envision the efforts of Islam and Christianity using the same tactics.

A fanatic in any vision...could change and become a fanatic in another vision...from being a Nazi fanatic to a communist fanatic or a socialist fanatic.

The fascinating thing is that Hoffer laid out the tactics....making people feel woeful about their environment and needing it fixed (not taking the action themselves but needing a figure or authority to do that part). He envisioned a sales like approach to this mass movement...like a marketing ploy....you need posters...you need key words....you need a pitch that sells.

Hoffer didn't limit mass movements to non-democratic societies. He knew they could easily fixate themselves anywhere.....even in the US.