I stood at the Knoxville News Sentinel booth yesterday and listened. I listened to the newspaper professionals and I listened to the women at the expo. I did speak a few times to judge reactions. The reaction was that I needed to shut my mouth. Newspaper professionals don’t want to hear how much I love the Internet. The newspaper booth was the main entrance into the event and the question that was asked of almost every person who walked near was, “Do you subscribe to the paper?” If you are reading these words, I don’t have to tell you what people said because you already know the answers. Almost everyone older than me subscribes and almost everyone younger than me doesn’t.
My story is one that should be familiar to newspaper marketing departments. I grew up in a newspaper household. My parents’ day didn’t begin until they had read the paper and drank their coffee. In fact, the KNS is the reason we caught my father’s stroke early enough that he got treatment and recovered completely. I subscribed to the paper when I was in college and kept a subscription until 2001. In 2001, I was maintaining several websites, an online diary and participating fully in the Internet community. Do you remember where you were when Elvis died? When John Lennon was murdered? I do. I heard it on the radio and immediately turned on the television. I eagerly awaited the afternoon newspaper reports. We had newspapers twice a day back in the dark ages. Do you remember where you were when Princess Diana died? I do. I was sitting at my computer reading second hand reports from people connected to the hospital employees who watched history happen. I told my mother about Diana’s death a full hour before the television said anything other than that there had been an accident. After that, the world just kept getting smaller and news became a rapidly evolving phenomenon instead of the static facts that it had been in the past. Now, I get breaking news on my telephone as it happens. I have already seen the pictures on Flickr. I have heard from eye witnesses on Twitter. I have listened to witnesses telling their stories on Seesmic. I just don’t need the newspaper to do summaries of what I already know. My parents still read the newspaper every morning while they drink their coffee. My day begins after I drink my designer coffee drink and scan my feed reader.
The newspaper professionals know that things have changed. I started predicting who subscribes and who doesn’t to the advertising woman standing in the booth. She knew the data because of the “reader surveys.” Are newspapers doing “non-reader” surveys? People were very willing to share their opinions yesterday. “By the time I am able to sit and read it, it’s already old news.” I’m not a subscriber, but I do visit the newspaper’s website. I visit it to read about local news and read the comments that people make on each article. I read the editorials and the letters people have written to the newspaper. I don’t read the newspaper for news. I read it for reactions. I just don’t know how print newspapers are going to survive once the computer-phobic generation is gone.