Don’t worry, we like your doorstep

Executive EditorJune 3, 2012 

Really. I promise. You are not the last person on earth (or in Pierce County) reading a printed newspaper.

Almost every time I attend a public function, someone stops me to express concern that our paper is on its deathbed.

“I know nobody else reads the paper anymore,” they’ll say, “but I do.

“I just have to put my hands on the real thing and turn the pages as I drink my cup of coffee in the morning. How much longer will you keep printing my TNT?”

We’ll keep printing as long as you and 297,005 others keep reading it.

Our most recent research shows that 297,006 people read the Sunday TNT. More than 100,000 people buy a Sunday paper, and most of them pass it along to other readers.

But readership is falling off, you’ve heard?

Actually, our Sunday readership is up from 291,499 a year ago.

With numbers like that, we’d be silly to stop the presses. In fact, we’ve decided it’s time to focus our efforts on improving the printed paper.

For the past few years, our focus has been elsewhere.

Much of it has been on improving our online offerings – posting breaking news 24 hours a day, sharing stories on Facebook and Twitter, figuring out what news people want on their smartphones and tablets.

Reacting to the recession also stole much of our focus. As other local businesses tightened their belts, they cut their advertising expenditures – our lifeblood. In response, we eliminated pages and sections, not because we thought it was a good idea, but to stay in business.

Now that we can catch our breath, we’re looking anew at our paper and ways to make it better. We started a couple of weeks ago by asking two TNT staff committees to dream a little about how we can improve the paper. They each submitted a list of ideas. On Thursday, we hosted a group of readers who did the same.

Advancing technology has prompted an interesting trend in our industry: Printed newspapers are returning to more traditional designs. One reason is that less-traditional readers now have other places to get their news by turning to their computers or mobile devices. That’s OK with us. It’s still the TNT news, just in a different format.

But with those flashier alternatives available, why not produce a printed paper for the traditionalists who prefer it that way.

My other theory is that suddenly being credible is cool again.

People today are bombarded with information sources. Cable television, blogs and Twitter streams are almost screaming at us with tidbits of “news” and unsubstantiated opinions. In the midst of all that screaming, readers say they come to us for news they can depend on. Professional journalism, when done well, leads to verified, accurate information.

Nobody else in Pierce County is providing that like we are. It’s OK for us to stand right up and be proud to be a newspaper.

Recent redesigns by The San Francisco Chronicle and Fort Worth Star-Telegram have found success by going back to basics and giving print readers the traditional experience they’ve wanted all along.

Obviously, meeting the reading needs of 297,000 people is no easy task, as evidenced by our reader conversation Thursday night. Jack at one end of the table likes having the local and national news, business and opinion pages all packed into one section. Ron at the other end of the table prefers a separate section for local news. Phyllis wants more news in the Saturday paper when she has time to read. That’s the one day of the week Benjii never picks it up.

But a few themes came through clearly: Be the watchdog this community needs to keep an eye on local government; go deeper on issues that matter to us; tell stories about interesting people; and showcase your photographs – we find ourselves in them. Above all else, they said, be local. We can get the rest of the news somewhere else.

We’re in the idea-gathering stage for the next couple of weeks. (Send your thoughts to my email address below.) After that, we’ll decide a course of action and aim for some new features in the fall.

And remember, if you’re reading this paper, you’re in good company – and maybe even one of the cool kids.

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