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Is the Quest for Content Killing Newspapers?
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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Regretfully, it is no secret that newspapers — particularly community publications or those in smaller markets — are fighting each day just to stave off bankruptcy. Perhaps worse: irrelevance. What publishers are discovering more and more is that content really is king, and all that "news" mess isn't really what today's reader is interested in seeing in the headlines. 

A sign of these times came when Gawker revealed that Time magazine, the former stalwart of weekly journalism, has now become an advertorial hawk because that's what pays the bills. Groan all you want, but when was the last time you purchased one of their magazines?! And now you see why Time has ventured into the great wild yonder of native advertising. According to Gawker, the "publishing empire is now explicitly rating its editorial employees based on how friendly their writing is to advertisers." 

Last year—in the opposite of a vote of confidence—Time Warner announced that it would spin off Time Inc. into its own company, an act of jettisoning print publications once and for all. Earlier this year, the company laid off 500 employees (and more layoffs are coming soon). And, most dramatically of all, Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp now requires his magazine's editors to report to the business side of the company, a move that signals the full-scale dismantling of the traditional wall between the advertising and editorial sides of the company's magazines.

You already can't trust what you see on national TV news, so what's to stop print news from changing its focus, too? Albeit, for far different reasons, but the premise is the same — where is the news? It has gone the way of content churning farms just to keep up with the Joneses (and that would be blogs like us, for those keeping score at home). 

Another sign showing that doom is near comes from the Chicago Newspaper Guild in a harrowing story that reveals if reporters with the Chicago Sun-Times' community outlet, The Pioneer Press, do not write 2.5 stories each day, their jobs may be in jeopardy. 

Some who have failed to meet the quota have been called into disciplinary meetings in Chicago. Reports were placed in their personnel files. At least one reporter was given a “final warning” (rescinded after a complaint was made) ... An email sent out last February by Richard Bird, Pioneer Press managing editor, spells out some of the rules, some exceptions and how breaking news stories are figured into the quota count: A reporter will be credited with 2.5 stories if he “requires a majority of the day” to cover a breaking story. Bird wrote. The total is 3.5 if the reporter writes an additional story the same day.

This means the mantra of "if it bleeds, it leads" is no longer a mainstay in journalism. Now, the annals of reporting may take on a different point-of-view: "If it ain't fluff, tough!" What a wonderful world this used to be. 


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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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