Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

July 29, 2007

A Modest Proposal to Save Print Newspapers

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 8:02 am

Think of this as a modest proposal. It probably wouldn’t work, but it just might help. i have an idea for an ad campaign designed to save dying printed page newspapers.

I think it was inspired by watching my first episode of Mad Men the AMC hour long drama focussing on a 50’s ad agency trying to come up with new ways to promote Lucky Strike just as the cancer news turns really bad. And by the fact that I read blogs incessantly, write one too, but still love the feel of a newspaper in my hands, however inky.

I know, they’re probably dead anyway, that ‘s what everyone says. I myself shifted a column I’d been writing for The New York Observer a print weekly (though with website), to the all-digital Slate recently.

And if you read Romenesko’s Media News column it’s become like a slow motion funeral notice for the printed newspapers of America. Layoffs, losses on the hard-copy side, big investment in unfocussed digital plans.

And remarkably the newspaper industry seems to be going down without a fight. Hysterically flailing about trying to get hip with the 2.0 program when 2.0 is so 2001. Accepting without protest the superiority of the new, chasing trends rather than promoting its own virtues and heroes like all those brave war correspondents dead and alive.

Well here’s my idea. An ad campaign. About the sensuality of paper. the way the reading experience is enhanced when the sense of touch is engaged. the sexuality of textuality. Fondling the printed page as a turn on. A largely visual campaign showing men and women at various places they read papers, from Starbucks to bed enjoying the feel of it.

Okay there’s a little problem of inkiness and your hands getting dirty. But I can think of a way to turn that into a plus. A campaign with a slogan “the smartest way to get dirty”. OK, maybe that’s not going to fly.

But how about:”Paper: you can finger it.”

Alright, maybe a problem there too. Well I’m not a pro like the lead character in Mad Men who came up with the genius slogan for Lucky Strike tobacco: “It’s Toasted!” Yummy, right? (Please resist the snide response: “Newspapers: They’re Toast!”)

How about “Ink: An Aphrodisiac? Then Why Do We Read So Much in Bed”. With accompanying prurient scenarios of people getting busy or getting ready to, on a bed strewn with the Sunday papers, not uncommon I’m told.

Too risque? Not exactly a ‘modest” proposal in every sense of the word? I bet that some really brainy and creative ad people could come up with an ad campaign to make paper sexy, or at least sensually appealing. I think that’s its saving grace. Touching screens just ain’t sexy and don’t try to tell me you get off caressing your mouse, I don’t want to hear about it if you do. (although I have heard that you can download porn on the internet).

I’m open to suggestions from admen–or any readers–out there. I promise to pass on the best ones (with your permission of course) to the Newspaper Publishers Association.

Any takers?


  1. Have you seen that book Nicholson Baker and his wife did of pages from Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, circa 1900? He used the medium of large panels of paper in creative and intriguing ways. Which only serves to make you realize how very, very long it’s been since newspapers were an exciting visual medium. Why, with all the advances in other media, do newspapers still look very much like they looked 60 years ago, gray type on gray paper? Why have they been so stingy with space that they’ve shrunk popular features like comics to near-illegibility? When was the last time a talented designer sought to make a career out of newspaper design? (I don’t know but I bet he’s retired by now.) This would have been a great tactic for newspapers if they hadn’t given away their readership and ignored their own virtues for decades by now. I’m afraid there’s nothing left for them but to die and be reborn in some other format.

    Comment by Mike G — July 29, 2007 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

  2. got ink?

    read it offline. big brother is watching.

    smell is beautiful

    Comment by mo cohen — July 30, 2007 @ 3:47 am | Reply

  3. “Get a grip on the news.”
    With various people holding the news.
    “Facts. True Facts, Facts You Can Trust to be True. Plus analysis and speculation about the future — what the facts might mean.”

    The real problem is that few have the patience for real news, facts … history. What everybody wants, me too, is the future — speculation. That’s why there’s FAR more on the 2008 race, than the real results of those elected in 2006.

    But true facts are the “killer ap” that newspapers can bring that nobody else can match.

    All opinion writers should be fired, and “allowed” to contribute, for free, columns that the editors are free to choose to run, or now. To be replaced by bloggers…

    Comment by Tom Grey — July 30, 2007 @ 2:28 pm | Reply

  4. You’re on the right track, but I don’t think that anything will help as long as the newspapers continue to give away their content for free at their websites.

    Second, I would be more inclined to voluntarily subscribe if I were sympathetic to their editorial views. For example, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post have all run Hamas op-eds in the last couple of months. That just infuriates me, and makes me less likely to subscribe.

    Finally, they need to have a more or less unique source of content. For example, I know the Los Angeles Times is widely criticized for their lack of local coverage, but I’ve found them to be very good on Mexico and Latin America, especially the depletion problems at the Cantarell oil field.

    Comment by Diane Anderson — August 4, 2007 @ 4:04 pm | Reply

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