editor on the verge

Online musings from the newsroom and beyond . . . by Yoni Greenbaum

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Why the “A” section leaves me feeling empty

December 17th, 2007 · 4 Comments

Like many people, I read my local newspapers for the local news. Between the Internet and the 24-hour news networks, I think many of us like to give the limited amount of time that we have to read the newspaper to local stories.

Now if you’re a newspaper editor or publisher, none of that is likely surprising or especially revelatory. But despite knowing this, newspapers, including my local papers, still fill their front sections (typically referred to as the “A” section) with national and international news reported by wires services. I guess their hoping that while you’re looking for the rest of the local stories from the front page, that you’ll stop and read some likely outdated and previously reported national or international news.

Their other hope is that you’ll pay some attention to the premium advertising that fills the A section. That’s right, newspapers charge a premium for the ads that occupy much of this section. Actually, I don’t know why advertisers, given the trend among newspaper readers to local news, agree to pay premium rates for placement in a section that receives only cursory attention. Frankly, if I was an advertiser, I would be asking newspapers to provide me with stats on the amount of time people actually spend on pages in this section, just like I would want to know how much time people were spending at one of the paper’s webpages.

Now if newspapers really wanted to justify that premium and maximize the amount of time that people spend with pages in the A section, I have a simple recommendation for them — fill it with local content. As a reader, I would be impressed; to me it would seem like my newspaper was recognizing and adapting to my reading habits. Additionally, this move would likely provide more space for local content then what you typically find in the traditional local section.

Just like the suggestion I proffered on Saturday, that newspapers should consider doing away with their Saturday editions and refocus strained and limited resources, this also requires a change in traditional thinking. But this decision should not be nearly as difficult to make. For in the end, this decision is about giving readers what they want and newspaper’s putting their best work front and center, I would call that a win-win.

Tags: Advertising · Best Practices · Industry · Local Newspapers · Online

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Eric Schwarz // Dec 18, 2007 at 12:40 am

    Hi Yoni,

    Newspapers don’t fill the A section with local news for at least two reasons:

    1. You can’t count on there being enough to fill your pages. Stories fall through, the source isn’t available, etc. The wire is almost unlimited. (The couple of Dec. 26 editions I helped edit at the Herald News were an exception — we had to ask the AP for extra copy from other bureaus. That’s because of course there’s no news happening on Christmas but plenty of ads and thus lots of space to fill.)

    2. A lot of local news is pretty mediocre, written poorly by underpaid staffers prompted by editors who want a local angle where none exists. This probably isn’t the case at the Ottaway/DJ/News Corp. papers — or when you were running the City Desk in Passaic/West Paterson. I’ve seen, and unfortunately had to write, many very marginal stories in order to fill the local news hole.

    The Herald News, I think, had a good mix of local stories on the front page where warranted. I’m talking about 1999, ancient history.

    Of course in 2007, almost 2008, readers get their national and international news from the Web, TV, etc. So if you have the resources and give editors and reporters the time and space to find, investigate, write and run well-written stories, by all means, fill the front section with that output. But if you’re going to require the reporters at the same time to attend every zoning board meeting that lasts until 2 a.m., that won’t work.

  • 2 Meranda Writes » Blog Archive » All local fronts; even the big dawgs are doing it these days // Dec 30, 2007 at 9:51 pm

    [...] I read a post with the idea that we should abolish the idea of the A-section being considered the “most important” and ye… that many people have already read, seen or heard before the paper lands on their stoop in favor of [...]

  • 3 Aviva // Jan 5, 2008 at 1:17 am

    Check out the “Valley News” from Lebanon, NH. They’ve been filling the A section with local drama for years.

  • 4 Yoni Greenbaum // Jan 5, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    @Aviva – I’ll have to check them out, as I wasn’t aware. Thanks.

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