Wednesday, December 28, 2005

They're Not Asking The Right People

This past Sunday (Dec. 25), Philadelphia Inquirer editor Amanda Bennett penned a column in the paper's "Currents" section that purported to offer a little good news about the Greater Philadelphia region's leading daily newspaper.

The Inquirer, Bennett told us in her essay, recently surveyed its readers and found that they like what they see in the paper more than they did three years ago. Moreover, 80 percent said they would recommend the paper to a newcomer as a way to keep up with what's going on in Philly and environs. On top of that, another survey conducted by Inquirer parent Knight-Ridder shows that most readers consider the Inky more informative and well-written and trust the journalists who produce it.

That's all very nice. What Bennett forgot to mention in her article is that with each passing year, there are fewer of these readers to survey. The Inquirer's circulation continues on its five-year downward trend, a trend shared by many other large dailies. These former readers, it appears, no longer find the paper speaks to them.

If the newspaper industry were serious about halting its long, slow demise, the publishers and eeditors should be surveying their former readers to find out what has led them to stop reading. Why do increasing numbers of people find daily newspapers no longer relevant to their lives? Where do they turn for news and information now? What, if anything, should--can--journalists do to regain these ex-readers' attention and affection?

I wish I had an answer myself. But I think it has something to do with telling compelling stories in a concise manner--the effort that should be at the heart of journalism anyway.

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