But I have stopped reading and subscribing to them (their ink-on-paper versions, anyway), and I am far enough removed from their management to see them now as a reader who wants more (and less) than they offer. I have some advice.
Papers continue to generate far more revenue than their digital counterparts in most cases, but in recent years very little thought has gone into reengineering them as they adopted a new role in the media ecology. They have become less intrinsically valuable because they are revealing far less than ever to the consumer. If they haven't figured it out already, readers and advertisers will soon recognize the harvesting strategy and hasten the demise.
Smaller community papers still deliver original content first and can continue to do so without the same local competition and worries of the metropolitan daily. But the bigger newspapers largely arrive last now in the media race, so their best road ahead is to be the most reflective of the information sources.
The morning metro newspaper should never hold the same content as yesterday afternoon's digital file. They could get away with it for more than a decade of online media, but we have reached the point where too many people know basic information long before it is printed. Newspapers need to add value to that information. The longer they keep presenting a simple snapshot of yesterday's online file, the closer they move to extinction.
Instead, they should invest resources in discussing the meaning and importance of events.
The breathless stenography is great for the digital platform, but by the time it hits the paper, it is lifeless.
This is an easy fix: bring on a crew of conceptual writers late in the production cycle and have them analyze and contextualize what the reporters chronicled earlier that day. Let them help readers comprehend what events mean, where they might lead, how they fit into a larger picture, what is behind them, why they might be important. Make this a distinct, newspaper-first feature.
While they are at it, newspapers should bring on more commentators to take this context forward, to lead the public affairs experience, and to get people talking to each other about the ideas and concepts involved in information.
It is also time that newspapers acted their age. Which is to say, without shame: somewhat old.
Newspapers ought to get out of their absurd quest to discover the latest pop culture and into the lucrative and relevant terrain of nostalgia. Those bands at the casino are more their readers' music than those bands at the club. Once you think you are old enough to write about pop music, you are too old to understand it. Newspapers should pay more reverence to the culture of their readers' youth and less to the culture of their readers' children.
Yes, cover sports and remind readers of the history of storied teams. But also let readers know what former players have done with their lives, how they landed on their feet (or didn't), how they invested their money, how they had to find a balance in their lives once sports disappeared. These were their icons and role models. You told them about their journey to the big leagues. Tell them about the journey afterward.
A parenting column? No. A grandparenting column? Better. A video games column? No. A revived books column? Better. A fashion column? Not necessarily. A well-dressing column? Better. A fitness column? Maybe. An eldercare column? Definitely.
Instead of an impersonal, graphic-loaded page of weather data, devote writerly coverage to a subject that matters immensely to the generation that drives, shops, gardens, situates and organizes life around today's, tomorrow's and this weekend's climate. For those rainy days, add some puzzles, quizzes and diversions to make the paper win the war for time.
It is nice to devote space to business and investment, but it would be just as meaningful in a reader's life if the newspaper devoted space to help shoppers save a few dollars today, if it treated advertised and non-advertised offers as valuable information. If every paper could say that the dollar spent on it saved the reader five dollars in shopping, it would be harder to argue with its value. The bargain-hunting paper would be a bargain to buy.
I spend my time consuming information online, and I find a great deal of analytical and contextual journalism there, so it is not as if the newspaper can even guarantee it will have some exclusivity in that realm. But it could be one area in which papers might hold back online publication of content for hours or a day to preserve, if a little artificially, the place of print.
My advice may not be the answer, but as it stands, publishing what the website had a day earlier cannot possibly be anyone's strategy for longevity.