Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Digital transformation . . .
It was not long before most newspapers followed the lead of USA Today. Even the mighty New York Times made its stories a bit more concise. The paper became a fixture for those who travel and a staple at hotels and motels all over. This was not simply a paper but the beginning of a media empire. Gannett began swallowing up newspapers large and small and revamping them into the mold of USA Today. Soon all of their papers began reprinting stories from in house sources. In Clarksville, Tennessee, this meant taking the oldest newspaper in Tennessee and turning it into a shell of its former self. It was printed somewhere else and its editorial focus was somewhere else so it did not take long before its meager pages were filled with news from somewhere else.
I stopped subscribing a long time ago. It all began when the online edition arrived and after some bad weather and missed deliveries I was informed that I should simply read it online. And that was it. No more were my wife and I to sit down and begin our days with coffee and newsprint. It has not been the same since. The Sunday paper is about the size the weekday once was and it is hardly worth the two bucks it costs. But habits die hard.
My point is not simply to lament the loss of a daily newspaper in a city of well over 200K. No, there is more. It is to lament the shift to digital reading which, as I have reported over and over again, lends itself to skimming and shallow reading (and comprehension) that is a bigger problem than the shutting down of the presses. Ease of access is not all there is. Study after study has shown the our comprehension from online reading is not nearly what it was and is from print media.
The circulation of 520,000 (with more than 340k of that to hotels) is a long way from the more than 2,289,000 subscriptions USA Today enjoyed only a dozen or so years ago. While USA Today has established itself as a well-established brand, the brand has lost credibility with advertisers as well as readers. The real question is whether or not the brand will attract people to a digital platform that must compete with news apps and feeds that can be tailored to interest, preference, and views. And this is part of the problem. We have fewer and fewer objective news media delivering a less biased view of what happens in the world. With it is a declining interest in what happens or why -- for the fruits of our digital pursuit of information tends to reinforce our own views and do little to challenge them with such inconvenient things like facts.