The LA Times Says It Wants Your Help

Here's a familiar scenario: new management comes in to a media company and decides it needs to find ways to "re-engage" the audience.

How serious are they? Unless they take my advice (after the cut), probably not too much.

Newspapers are all looking for ways to gain readers, and many have hired consultants to help them. In an unusual twist, The Los Angeles Times is looking to chart its future by using its own reporters and editors, who rank among the best investigators in the business.

The Times is dedicating three investigative reporters and half a dozen editors to find ideas, at home and abroad, for re-engaging the reader, both in print and online. The newspaper’s editor, Dean Baquet, and its new publisher, David Hiller, plan to convene a meeting today to start the effort, which is being called the Manhattan Project. A report is expected in about two months.

“The newsroom is energized about innovation,” Mr. Hiller said. “And having the code name of the Manhattan Project captures the sense of significance and urgency that I think is altogether called for.”

The name refers, of course, to the American effort to develop an atomic bomb during World War II, an-exaggerated-for-effect overstatement of the problems facing ink-on-paper newspapers: declining circulation, stagnant ad revenues and rising costs. While visits to newspaper Web sites are increasing, they account for a small part of revenue and do not draw enough advertising to support newsroom operations.

Is it just me or does this horribly named "Manhattan Project" (who names a way to improve your newspaper after the project to build a bomb?) seem like another case of the blind leading the blind?

The answer to the Times's problem keeping people's attention is quite simple:

  • Stop patronizing to your audience. You aren't better than them. That you know how to write or edit a story says nothing about your intellectual capacity.
  • Recruit newer blood into the pages. Expand your employment search beyond the drones coming out of America's journalism schools. These kids have no experience with real life and no educational background beyond journalism. And for god's sake, hire some conservatives and libertarians.
  • Put the kibosh on the left-wing bias. Stop with the immature photos of Republicans. Stop treating people who oppose abortion like they're the scum of the earth. Start realizing that most folks don't want higher taxes like you do.
  • Expand your outreach to the reader. The regular American has a lot to say. Why not try to "let go of the megaphone" as Patterico puts it.
What would you say to the Times?
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013