The Darwin Pages

Yesterday’s post about the Dayton Daily News sparked some comments. It also made the phone ring. No, Editor Kevin Riley didn’t call (though he should have – note, I’d give you a link to a page about him- but I can’t find anything on their lame-o site)- it was Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley (who still doesn’t have his own page on the County site). He’s been hearing the same thing- is the Dayton Daily News scaring potential business/new residents away? Are they doing more harm than good- and the answer, well, lets look at our economy, our job losses, our population losses- and general perception about Dayton. Would the New York Times make it front page news that a developer was moving to Florida? Even if it was Donald Trump- I doubt it.

Around 25 years ago, some Wright State film students (including my friend John Adkins of Mainsail Production Services) made a documentary about the local news: “If it bleeds, it leads.” That should tell you something about the local news mentality- then and now.

So, in a day when people are so starved for information that they’ll even read something like this post, from a “nobody” (at least that’s what the Dayton Daily implied I was when I first ran for office so long ago)- and 80% of Internet use starts with Search- why are they actually making the stories shorter? Giving us less content, and wasting time with repeating the same story in 2 places- one kid sized and the other, kid sized plus?

I’ll tell you why, because they (the newspaper industry) don’t have a clue what they are doing in this new media landscape- and are trying anything and everything to stay afloat- except the right things- so, here is my prescription for solving the problems of the Dayton Daily News and our community.

The cognoscenti factor
Realize that the people who bother to buy the paper like to think of themselves as smarter than those who don’t. They are, after all, making an investment in being informed. Give them the highest quality content available- written exquisetly, showing off insight and knowledge of the subject matter that gives the paper the right to write on the subject.

The single sales myth
The number of people who will run out and buy a single copy if you have a great story above the fold is an outdated myth- at least in Dayton OH. In case the editors didn’t realize it- we don’t have street level news vendors hawking papers in Dayton, haven’t as long as I’ve had them. The few newspaper boxes that are left, aren’t going to make your sales numbers. Even when stopping for gas or coffee, fewer people are passing your rack. If the story is that good- they’ll get it online- for free (and this is your revenue source- ya idiots).

It’s a knowledge economy- stock up
Good people, who’ve been covering the news in this town for years, who know the community better than your editor from out of town- are the people who are going to get you the stories with juice. They are the ones who will have the CEO’s cell phone number, or the ability to call the talkative assistant to the Commissioner who spills the beans. Turnover in your “newsroom” is the kiss of death. If you can’t keep the people in house- you better have some sort of network of stringers who you pay well to keep you connected- or start looking to the blogging world for content generators.

Build a community- literally
In building this new “community” of informed people- you have to realize that your part in the community is to keep it together, and involved- you don’t do that by constantly slamming the community- you are a part of it as well. So, instead of promoting the antics of local petty thieves and second rate hucksters on the front page with your simple-minded police blotter coverage- relegate the dreck of our community to the “Darwin Pageâ„¢” where those that shouldn’t be in our gene pool get their coverage. If it’s there everyday- and NOT on the front page, it will give people even more reason to want to open the paper and see who was getting voted off our little island. It adds a whole new level of coffee cooler talk to the paper.

Smart people win – it’s called evolution
Think Global/Act Local- If we think of our community of readers as our local cognoscenti, and we want to empower them to take our community to new levels of peace, prosperity and pride- give us something to gnaw on, give us articles about “things that work” and work to identify our local lug heads who stand in the way. It’s the new form of “investigative journalism.” My friend Sally Hogshead wrote my personal mantra in her amazing book “Radical Careering” – it’s “Radical truth #15: Aspire to be the dumbest person in the room” – let the paper go on a witch hunt for the luddites who stand in the way of moving our community forward. If you can’t stand up and defend your reasoning on why we should fund the latest corporate welfare, with good, sound, reliable information- you shouldn’t be in a position of power in our community. If we can out the idiots, and get the smartest people in the room onto the dais to represent us- we might not be in this mess the paper loves to write about (and you might sell a hell of a lot more papers).

This is turning into a long post- maybe we should continue this discussion in comments? What do you, my informed thought leaders in Dayton have to say?

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