Globe puts events into context

Like most industries, the newspaper business is undergoing a major evolution.The evolution is being driven by the same engines that are causing rapid change in almost every business in the world.In the case of newspapers, it is driven by three of...

Like most industries, the newspaper business is undergoing a major evolution.

The evolution is being driven by the same engines that are causing rapid change in almost every business in the world.

In the case of newspapers, it is driven by three of the four engines – computers, telecommunications and instrumentation – of the New Economy as defined by Nuala Beck in the book, Shifting Gears.

A major motivation to read a newspaper used to be to catch up with the news.

Technology has made 24-hour real-time coverage of major international, national and local news events readily available to most Canadians electronically at no cost.

Up to the point at which the presses roll, newspapers are an electronic technology-based medium.

Decide

We have to decide if and how we wish to compete in offering customers real-time electronic news coverage.

At The Globe and Mail, our rapidly expanding Globe Information Services division provides customers with real-time electronic news coverage, as well as edited information from national and international databases, electronically and in hard copy.

While reporting national, international and business news events continues to be a mandate of the Globe, we place greater importance on helping Canadians to understand what is happening in the world, and putting the news events of the day into context.

As New York media observer Neil Postman has written, most North Americans are overwhelmed by the glut of available information; the future of information marketing is to bring order to the facts.

Editorial content changes that have been made to the Globe in the past three years reflect this desire to bring understanding to news stories, and to put them into the context of economic, political and social changes that are taking place in the world.

The back page of the first section, Facts & Arguments, is a page of social commentary.

Also in the front section, Middle Kingdom explains why things happen and how things work.

On Tuesday, the back page of the Report on Business section is The Change Page, which explores the efforts of specific companies to succeed in the new economy.

New content

These are three examples of editorial content that have recently been invented by the Globe to meet the changing needs of our readers.

Many other changes have been introduced to the same purpose.

We have also developed strategic alliances with other serious news organizations around the world, to better serve our readers’ needs.

These include a same-day exchange of stories with The Wall Street Journal, and an equivalent agreement with The Economist.

We feel the need and the responsibility to move in these directions.

The majority of Globe readers are curious-minded Canadians whose thirst for information, intelligence and understanding goes way beyond their basic requirement for simply functioning in life.

Affluent readers

These people are largely well-educated, employed and quite affluent.

Have the changes met our readers’ needs?

In the past three years, we have stopped using any discounts or premiums to bolster our circulation. This has had a positive impact on our circulation revenue.

We are enjoying a healthy circulation of 310,000, and a daily readership of one million, which builds to 1.9 million readers in the course of a week, according to NADbank, an annual study of Canadian consumers and daily readership by the Newspaper Marketing Bureau, a group which represents 110 dailies across Canada.

We conduct a substantial amount of research into how our readers feel about our editorial content, from somewhat conventional focus groups, telephone studies and personal interview studies, to more unconventional methods such as the reader hotline and reader report cards.

Guideline

This research acts as a useful guideline to our editorial management, but it does not relieve them of the responsibility to invent a newspaper that exceeds the imagination of our readers, and, therefore, may not be culled from reader research.

As new features are introduced to the content of the Globe, they are announced and explained to readers in editorial coverage and in-paper advertisements.

In the case of our major 1990 redesign, a letter from the editor-in-chief was sent to each subscriber a week before the launch.

Many advertising decision-makers are Globe readers, and, as such, are aware of changes to the paper; our advertising sales force also does a vigorous job in keeping the advertising community apprised of our editorial developments.

In times of considerable change, the exact future of any industry is uncertain.

I believe that all advertising media face serious challenges; however, they have successfully overcome challenges in the past, and I am confident that by being imaginative and resourceful, they will continue to thrive.

The challenges to the media come from database marketing.

This will continue to grow rapidly.

The cost of computing power is declining and there are short-term pressures on marketers to continue to invest heavily in below-the-line promotional activity.

It is likely a segment of the retail business that does not use media advertising heavily as a part of its media mix (Price Club, Walmart) will grow significantly.

I believe newspapers will respond in a number of ways.

We will try to collect a greater percentage of our revenues from readers, as opposed to advertisers. The trick here is not to lose a significant amount of readership when the cost of the newspaper is increased.

We are also much better placed than the broadcast media to participate in the database marketing revolution, allowing us to gain from it on one hand, while losing on the other.

Finally, I believe newspapers will diversify into a number of related businesses, in the way that the Globe is already in the alternate delivery business, the information marketing business (through Globe Information Services) and the seminar marketing business.

The imaginative and nimble will thrive.

Nigel Pleasants is director of readership development at The Globe and Mail.