Monday, January 26, 2009

Data Point of One: Why podcasts trump newspapers

A friend in Seattle recently observed that, despite having grown up with a newspaper-reading habit, she couldn’t feel particularly distressed about the pending demise of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. (The Hearst Corp. announced earlier this month that it would cease publishing a print edition of the paper in 60 days if it couldn't find a buyer.) My friend cares about the news. And she’s just the kind of accomplished, business school grad, tech industry veteran you’d expect to be interested in public affairs. But the fact is, she hasn’t subscribed to a local newspaper in years. The newspaper format just doesn’t work for her. With three kids under 10, the idea of having a window of time where she could actually sit down and read a newspaper is ludicrous.

What she does instead is listen to podcasts. Specifically, Slate’s weekly "Political Gabfest." Podcasts work for her. She can listen to them while folding laundry, exercising at the gym, or toodling around in the car on errands. Not only that, she actually looks forward to listening to them. This isn’t a “take your vitamins” kind of habit. She enjoys listening to Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz go back and forth on the week’s events. It’s sort of like grabbing a cup of coffee with a fun group of friends, she said.

Newspapers aren’t dying because people don’t care about the news. Newspapers are dying because the format doesn’t work for the average person. News organizations that can figure out how to deliver the news in formats that work for their target audience will find a future. Organizations that can figure out how to create a compelling offering that “readers” are excited to dive into will find a future. Organizations that continue to insist that news should be delivered in 500-word, inverted pyramid stories on pieces of paper that require you to devote your full visual attention to them them probably won’t.

It’s a mindset thing. Organizations that can break out of thinking that news is only news if it looks like your father’s news are doomed. Organizations that say to themselves, “How can we deliver this information in a way that fits people’s lifestyles today?” are on their way to finding the future of news.

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