Kicking the Reading Habit

The wailing and gnashing of teeth continues unabated at the Strib and other print publications these days. A report from ABC, the company that audits the circulation of the Strib and most other daily newspapers, just noted that most daily newspapers’ circulation was down again. The Strib was down over six percent.

Editor Nancy Barnes had a folksy take on the whole thing in her column on November 11. (I could show you a link to it on the Strib’s website, but the link to the story goes nowhere, which could be a small part of the Strib’s problem.) At any rate, Barnes, after noting that her college-age daughter “gets all the news and information she needs online,” wrote, “I, on the other hand, cannot start my day without coffee and at least one newspaper,” and then continued to describe the daily’s efforts to choose stories her readers want to read.

Probably since I am much nearer Barnes’s age than her daughter’s, I can also not conceive of starting my day without coffee and three newspapers. Unfortunately, of the three that arrive on my porch every morning, one doesn’t have enough in it to last me through my cup of coffee. And when the dog needs his walk, and I have to choose how to spend my time before work, the one at the bottom of the pile never makes it to the top.

At, a new web-based newspaper that will further damage the Strib’s circulation, David Brauer wrote a piece that quoted the Strib’s circulation director as saying the main cause of declining circulation was not the Strib’s editorial “fluffiness” (as Brauer called it) but rather “no time” to devote to the paper.

Somebody in the circ department needs to send Barnes a memo to shorten stories and make them faster to read. Oh wait, they’ve already done that. So what could be the answer?

Here’s an idea, and I have to admit I’m just guessing here: the real answer is not that readers have “no time.” It’s that they have no time for drivel, or a newspaper that churns it out as a matter of course. And if anybody thinks the Strib isn’t in the business of turning out drivel, what exactly do you call it when its media columnist lists one of his ambitions as “bowling alongside Cyndy Brucato”?

Oh, that’s just coy self-deprecation, you tell yourself. But you’re wrong, because he follows that up with a startling exposé of the cordial relationship between WCCO anchormen Frank Vascellaro and Don Shelby.

Sure, they’ve got serious articles in the Strib, too. For example, they’ve got all kinds of items about Russia, and Pakistan, and sometimes even Iowa. Unfortunately, they are usually things I read yesterday in the New York Times, the newspaper at the top of my coffee-stained pile.

Even when the Strib does serious journalism all by itself, where is it?

A good piece by Stribber Tom Meersman on November 12, about the draining of small prairie ponds, was at the bottom of the front page, right under the story about Viking Adrian Peterson straining his knee and another about soccer star David Beckham’s appearance in Minneapolis. Illustrating the Beckham story was a four-column front-page photo of ten-year-old girls with cameras waiting to take his picture. The story itself was longer than the prairie ponds story. While the ponds story was interesting and important for anyone who wants to know whether we might have drinkable water for our children, the Beckham story amounted to a series of quotes from people who went to the game, which provided insight on the level of “teen girls feel the same way about Beckham as Frank Vascellaro does about Don Shelby, except Beckham has his own fragrance and Shelby just has a special way of tying his tie.”

I guess Barnes put the Beckham story on the front page because, as she says, she is looking for “the right balance in today’s wired world.” Part of that balance must consist of the nine photos on the Strib‘s website of Beckham’s appearance, including one of him with his shirt off, that must have revved up girls even older than ten. The link to that story, thank God, was working.

Figured in, too, must be Barnes’ belief that she’s laying down a solid foundation to attract the readers of the future. I can hear all the ten-year-old girls in their fifth-grade classes today: “Sally, did you see that cool story on Becks in today’s Star Tribune? When I get old enough to decide what I want to make time to read, I’m gonna get a subscription.”






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