Archives » March 3rd, 2005

March 3, 2005

Nevada Appeal Responds

My post on Shrinking Papers from a few weeks ago must have gotten noticed in the newsroom at the Nevada Appeal, because yesterday Editor Barry Smith posted a response in my comments section. Nobody ever looks in the comments of old posts, though, so I’m going to bring this out to the front page for everyone to see.

Thanks for taking an interest in the Appeal’s new look. I was interested in your analysis of the “shrinking newspaper” and thought I might be able to provide some insight into why we do things the way we do.

First, I couldn’t resist a challenge, so I did go check a newspaper from 1900. Actually, it was a Carson City Daily Appeal from 1908 because it was easiest to reach. I didn’t count all the words, but I did count one column and extrapolate. I came up with about 3,000. (By the way, there was an 8-inch ad on the front page, slightly larger than what appears on the Appeal now.)

The word count on the front page you posted above is 2,799 words, so indeed there are fewer words on the front page. Of course, the front page isn’t everything. The Appeal in those days was four pages total — and one of those was nothing but ads. The edition referenced above was 30 pages. The Appeal generally ranges from 20 to 48 pages.

The most dramatic comparison would be to newspapers in their heyday of the ’50s and ’60s, when they were huge compared to today’s editions. The reason? Advertising. Before the boom in chain stories, all ads went into the newspaper and there was considerably more space for news. Over the last couple of decades, much of that advertising has shifted to preprinted flyers inserted into the newspaper. We don’t do much more than deliver them.

The Appeal’s front page does indeed resemble a Web page, with lots of promos to point people deeper into the paper. We need to attract younger readers, who have developed different habits. The design is intended to provide quicker reads — not less information, but information presented in more accessible ways.

Finally, newspapers have in many respects developed into guides for people to find more information for themselves on the Web. There will always be limits to how many words we can provide on a printed page, but we now have the opportunity to provide much more on the Internet.

That last point is something I’ve noticed about the paper since they overhauled it last month. There are several places in the paper where they mention you can go to their website for more information. There is even a section with teaser quotes from other area newspapers, and links to the other papers’ websites. So they are doing more online than just reprinting stories. And they do provide RSS feeds of their news. But there’s still not much there that’s been contributed by readers, beyond the letters to the editor. Even the forums they used to have seem to be missing in action. The paper and its website are still a one-way street, from the newsroom into your living room. Which, I guess, is what newspapers are used to. It’s what they’ve always done, and it’s what they’re good at. And it leaves a nice big space for someone else to fill, where the readers can start talking to each other.

And when I was talking about old newspapers being so jam-packed on their front pages, I was thinking of something like this and this. Seven columns, tiny tiny type, and everything that happened anywhere in town. Of course, today, that same number of stories would be spread over 20 pages, so I guess that’s the difference.