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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fresh to your letterbox … warmed over news

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that newspapers seem increasingly filled with warmed over news. In fact, I know I’m not alone because I’ve had a few conversations with colleagues in the media lately who feel the same way.

Like others who work in the media, I’m an abnormal reader in that I consume more news than most – I trawl through websites during the day, have a news ticker across the top of my screen and use an aggregator to haul in news and blogs of interest.

Even so, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen stories in the paper (or on the TV news for that matter) that I’d read online a few days ago, if not a few weeks. And more often than not, the story hasn’t moved along at all and there’s no new pictures, graphics or comment to hold my interest in it.

News editors used to be able to sit on stories they’d read on the wires or seen in trade mags and pull them out when they were stuck for a filler on page 5.

That’s because editors knew that newspaper readers never saw the wires nor read many trade mags so the stories would seem fresh when they showed up in the paper days or weeks later.

Note to editors – THOSE DAYS ARE OVER!

Everything’s online now – wire copy, trade mags, everything. So if you’ve already read it, chances are so has your audience. Not only have they read the story, they’ve blogged about it, answered a poll question and watched a mash-up of the video on YouTube.

So, what are newspapers to do now that websites have dished up the day's news long before the paper gets put to bed at night?

They have to move the story on. I don’t mean whip up another leg to the story out of nothing. I mean hunt down fresh voices, explain the detail in an easy-to-read graphic that would look rubbish on my 14” computer screen and, most importantly, offer up context and analysis from industry insiders and experts who can help me make sense of the story and how it affects me.

Analysis was always the newspaper’s strong point. It should remain so. Newspapers can still do detailed analysis better than TV and radio and can lay out big reads more appealingly than can be done online. And for the stories that don't require detailed analysis? Well, at the very least make sure the story's not three days old.