Quality begats brand

“Those of us who care ought to be trying to make sure we create ways — and technologies — for ethical editors to maintain control of the content they are in charge of producing. Interactivity is a fabulous tool or it’s a catastrophic threat and a weapon of media credibility destruction. It’s our choice.”

— Alan Horton, former senior vice president for newspapers at The E. W. Scripps Company and now chairman of the Scripps Howard Foundation, quoted in Editor and Publisher.
Bonus quote:
E.W. Scripps, the most cost-conscious businessman of his time–rivaled in our own only by Sam Walton–pinched wheat pennies until they floured. But even Scripps knew that the newspaper publisher

“who starts out to build up a circulation by canvassing for subscribers generally bankrupts himself before he discovers a fundamental truth concerning our business–which is that a successful newspaper must depend entirely upon its quality for its custom, and not at all upon slick solicitors.”

(from the same Editor and Publisher article)
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  1. Jack, I think another quote in that article says it even more succinctly:
    “Scripps believed that quality creates the brand, not the other way around.”
    Boy howdy, is that ever true.
    As a consumer of news (and not a journalist), I agree with this wholeheartedly. I’m one of those who gets 100 percent of my news online these days, and the “brands” I frequent have to do with one thing, and one thing only: quality.
    I have to confess that I stopped subscribing to the KNS dead tree version quite some time ago, mainly because its national and international news consisted mostly of repackaged AP wire feeds. Local reporting has likewise dwindled (look how small and content-free the B section has become), and the majority of the paper became overwhelmingly dominated by ads.
    I don’t think I’ve ever once bought a newspaper to peruse its ads. Ever.
    With competition such as the Halls Shopper (I love Betty Bean!) and blogs (KnoxViews, for starters) often providing greater depth and detail, Knoxville’s sole daily has some mean competition these days.
    To paraphrase Shakespeare, “The news is a ass.” And I mean that in the most endearing and constructive way possible.
    In order to reclaim lost readers, you guys must create content that is distinct, compelling, informative, localized, and above all, authoritative. Don’t repackage what someone else is saying, because that invariably can be found online. Give me content I can only find at your news source, convince me that it’s the full story and not an abridgement, and you’ll have a loyal reader. Then, all you have to do is convince me to pay for it.
    I read the NY Times, Washington Post, BBC, and Guardian every day (online, of course). Emulate those, within your budget. Hire an ombudsman. If you want to run a serious newspaper, then by all means get serious about it. Dramatically increase your A and B sections, and make it relevant to locals. Hire more reporters. Don’t copy and paste wire service articles.
    Roll your own, Jack. Whether it’s online or on paper, homegrown is best. 😉
    Contrary to Mr. McLuhan, the medium is not the message. The message is.
    Give me something to buy, and I’ll buy it.

  2. Russ, you have a lot of perceptive advice for newspaper folks in your comments.
    I’ve long believed — and our stats strongly support it — that at least online, unique, local content is the only “product” that readers find compelling.
    Yes, there are exceptions. but they are, well, exceptional.
    Online, you’re always one click away from a more detailed and authoritative national or international story.
    I think you nailed it when you said:
    “In order to reclaim lost readers, you guys must create content that is distinct, compelling, informative, localized, and above all, authoritative.”
    I’ve come around to thinking that an intense local focus may well be what’s needed for a printed metro-market newspaper, too. Don’t get me wrong; we’ve got a lot of resources involved in creating local news and information, but maybe a wire national or international story should rarely make our front page.
    Wire national and international news could be greatly compressed. The “big story” on the cable news channels is almost never what should be the “big story” in a local newspaper.
    The traditional newspaper model worked in a time of few news sources; today, much less so.
    And I certainly agree with E.W. Scripps that quality creates the brand, not the other way around.
    Thanks for reading us and keep giving us suggestions!

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