Taking wisdom from the streets

I can't help wondering if a possible solution to stop the decline of newspapers has been right under our feet all this time.

I can't help wondering if a possible solution to stop the decline of newspapers has been right under our feet all this time.

Consider this microcosm of the newspaper world. Every morning, residents on my street are greeted with colored plastic bags, each holding a different newspaper: white for the major daily, blue for The New York Times, pink for the Wall Street Journal, and – once a week – clear for the weekly community paper.

The white bag used to rule, sitting on the sidewalk in front of nearly every house. Today, white, blue, and pink bags are scattered around with no real majority, but the clear bag – fully paid subscriptions only, no comps – is a uniform sight up and down the street, week after week.

My informal focus group of neighbors reveals why: people want the news that affects them – school happenings, new retailers, town issues, and the like. They're perfectly happy to get the national and world news on the fly, wherever they find it, whether in print, broadcast, or online.

Maybe those colored plastic bags need to take a look at each other and think about how to take back their turf, on the sidewalk and on the newsstands, so to speak. Is the answer in the European model, where a few national newspapers prosper happily alongside local dailies that are truly local?

After all, news is more relevant when it's more personal, which is why those hyper-local Web sites seem to be attracting eyeballs. Perhaps the major dailies should consider doing what they're staffed to do best – becoming the go-to source for everything local – while leaving the world reporting to the national papers staffed to do that best.

Larry Meltzer is agency principal/creative director of MM2 Public Relations

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