Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Newspapers need to fight back

Besides the Republican Party, newspapers were the biggest loser Tuesday night.

Nowhere was that more evident than in the governor's race, where Rod Blagojevich bet and won that his $20 million in TV ads would obliterate the hundreds of hours of toil, research and column inches newspapers expended publishing stories about his administration's corruption.

If it wasn't clear before, it is now: A unrebutted TV ad is at least 100 times more powerful than a powerful newspaper story.

Never in the history of Illinois has a governor been more disdainful of newspaper reporters and editors. The administration treats them like minor annoyances that need to be swatted away occasionally. Traditionally, the governor's office has tried to court and manipulate the print press in order to gain favorable coverage that ultimately would drive radio and television stories. Not these people -- they know they have enough TV commercials in the bank to overcome nearly any onslaught of newspaper coverage.

What can newspapers do to fight back? As a former newspaper reporter and editor, it pains me to see the industry so clearly dying in plain sight.

Newspapers need to fight fire with fire. They must grasp the concept that their medium is far weaker than TV. So they need to use TV to help them drive their own message.

I'd suggest that newspapers all pitch in money to form a consortium that might also seek private funding. The consortium would be used to run TV advertising in political campaigns in races where candidates are stretching the truth the most. The ads would center on "truth squading" of negative TV ads.

Newspapers would form the basis of the critique ads by first publishing "ad watches" that critique the negative ads. Papers used to do this but most have given up. The duty must be taken seriously and whoever performs the critique must be given time and resources to do it right.

Then, the consortium would run the ads in selected races based on some type of objective selection process that identifies the need for intervention. The ad watches and TV ads could all be featured on a nice website that gives the issue an internet presence.

Without some kind of push back, newspapers will continue to die and TV stations will continue to get fat off the campaign contributions of candidates such as Rod Blagojevich.

I'd welcome any other suggestions on how newspapers can avoid their growing irrelevance.

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