To put this fourth paper in perspective, it is necessary to recap briefly what was discussed in my first three papers. My first research paper focused primarily on the current state of the news industry and the Internet's rapidly growing and significant role in getting people news when they want it, where they want it, and how they want it. As reported in my first paper, more readers prefer to get their news online, now that 'more than two-thirds of Americans (68.1 percent) use the Internet at home, a substantial increase from the 46.9 percent of users who reported home Internet use in 2000,' according to University of Southern California's Center for the Digital Future (2007). Even so, overall interest in news has declined, especially amongst the younger generation.
My second paper examined how important story content and presentation are in sustaining and gaining readership. My research showed the importance of a paper's audience and how news can be presented in different ways to better appeal to its audience while not being 'dumbed down.' My research further highlighted the importance of community and local news to readers.
My third paper examined multimedia journalism and its effect on journalists and readers. I looked at how the relationship between reporter and reader has changed significantly, as they are now able to communicate directly and more immediately as well. Facilitated by technological advances, stories can now invite and encourage reader comments to be placed easily online, allowing the audience to react immediately if they so choose right after they read the story. Further, blogs have created a new, still-evolving forum for discussion. This increased form of interactivity has greatly helped reader engagement.
Culminating in this fourth paper, my research presents how print and online newspapers are able to not only coexist in the future, but make each other stronger by adopting changes that respond to reader behavior and preferences, while maintaining journalistic integrity.
The following is a pro/con list of different features and qualities that make print and online newspapers more or less desirable:
Print ~ PRO
Print ~ CON
Online ~ PRO
Online ~ CON
The recommendations embodied in this model are designed to improve print and online papers individually, as well as collectively, resulting in more effective news delivery and a more informed society in the future. My research has identified a symbiotic relationship between print and online newspapers; by supplementing each other, the two media working in concert and adopting the recommendations in this paper have the potential to create a combination that is greater than the sum of the individual components.
The following is an inventory of readership behavior changes:
The following is an inventory of content readers want in stories:
In addition to making individual changes to each medium, having both print and online newspapers work together can help supplement what each lacks by itself. Stronger connections between print newspapers and their online counterparts need to be established; neither alone is adequate. This development has started happening at newspapers like the 'Los Angeles Times.'
When asked in an email interview whether she had any suggestions for ways print and online newspapers could most effectively work together in the future, Diana Day, creator of the blogs inSierra Madre and BeTwinned, wrote:
'I don't know whether I have any clever suggestions. The only thing I know for sure is that print and online versions of the newspaper are going to have to work together to survive,' Day wrote. 'Online is having trouble figuring out how to make money, and print papers are circling the drain, to use a phrase I heard recently from a hardworking print reporter I know.'
That said, Day does prefer print newspapers, although she also sees the benefit of online newspapers:
'I like print newspapers because I have an easier time directing my attention to stories that I consider important,' Day wrote. 'For me, this is a balance between what catches my eye and what the newspaper editors & [sic] the layout staff think is important. Additionally, a newspaper is more portable for people who don't like portable electronic devices like PDAs. I do not think that these features came about due to readers' behavioral changes; I think that these are longstanding features of a print newspaper.'
'Online newspapers are often free and convenient for many people to access. Still, though, I don't like any of the available portable electronic gadgets for newspaper reading. If I want to read the paper on a train, then I'll choose the print paper. I have always really enjoyed excellent slide shows (like those on the NY Times site) as a feature of online news, and more and more, I'm enjoying video too. Obviously, these are online-only features. Yes, I do think that changes to online newspapers come about as a result of readers' behavioral changes. Or, the changes come about simply because that's what employers will allow. I know folks in online newsrooms, and sometimes they are faced with ignorant bosses who only let certain changes go through, and they might not be the changes that readers most desire.'
3. Online newspapers usually include national stories — there should be links to the more 'localized' story that is found in print newspapers.
4. Online pages should have one or two print stories that they 'push.'
5. Print stories should direct people to related blogs.
6. Letters to the Editor for print stories should be submitted online.
7. For each article that covers a complicated topic or issue, like war or finance, have a separate link that will explain in basic terms the background of the issue, important terms, etc. — this 'reference sheet' will be applicable to all stories related to that issue.
8. Newspapers should include more in-content promotion.
3. Be clearer with section headings in print newspapers so people don't have to search for the article they want, and have dedicated sections to news that readers have specifically requested they want (probably more community news for print newspapers).
4. Just like with print newspapers, online newspapers should have grouped stories — for each new headline that appears, related or past stories should be grouped underneath that headline as hyperlinks.
5. Within print stories, there should be pull-out boxes and summaries of articles for quick scanning.
Newspapers all over the country have begun taking steps, some bigger than others, to ensure their survival and continued relevance. Many have turned to the Readership Institute at Northwestern University for guidance, and they have become increasingly cognizant of the significance of reader behavior and preferences in the rapidly transforming media world of print and online newspapers. My research has culminated in a series of feasible and practical recommendations that both respond to such behavior and preferences, and maintain journalistic integrity. If print and online newspapers listen to their readers and adapt to the changing technological multimedia world, the future looks hopeful for them.
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© Robert Niles