JOHN CURLEY: The road ahead for newspapers

STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania: The threat to newspapers may be from online sources, but the battle has to be fought with good content, backed by solid in-paper promotion of editorial and advertising content.

So says John Curley, the first editor of USA Today, and the man who succeeded Al Neuharth as president, chairman and CEO of Gannett Corporation.

Now a professor and distinguished professional in residence at Penn State University, and co-director of PSU’s Center for Sports Journalism, Curley says it’s time newspapers, instead of moaning and groaning about falling numbers, went back to doing more “enterprise reporting” that they used to do and many still do. Because, he avers, those are the stories nobody else can do, and will bring readers to newspapers and hold circulations at levels that are satisfactory.

“I think it’s a misnomer to believe that circulation has gone down sharply. It’s gone down at the rate of about one or one-and-a-half per cent a year. If it settles in at that, then a lot of the advertising will stay where it is.

“A lot of times the press will, rightly, focus on the good and the bad. Sometimes it looks like things are worse than they are. That’s been the case with some of the reporting (about the media) in the last couple of years. Realistically there are a lot of good things going on.”

Curley, who teaches a course issues for newsroom managers, says the newspaper industry should look at news ways of promoting classified advertising as a reading habit.

“There been some slippage (in revenue from classifieds) due to interest rates and other things in automotive and real estate. Not so much in employment. The fact is that a lot of people have not put in in-paper promotion to convince readers to look at the classifieds that they are carrying. We ought to try some interesting manoeuvres on the front pages of the classifieds section to draw people in.

“Research has shown that classifieds have a lot of appeal to people under 25 because they are starting out, looking for apartments, moving around a bit more. Maybe we ought to capitalise on the web and in print.”

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