Thomson: the reader as consumer

This decade will be an exciting time of change and newspapers are at the crest of that change.In today's competitive business environment, market information is critical to serving customer needs.New computers and software will provide advertisers with a wealth of information...

This decade will be an exciting time of change and newspapers are at the crest of that change.

In today’s competitive business environment, market information is critical to serving customer needs.

New computers and software will provide advertisers with a wealth of information never before available in the newspaper medium.

Over the next few years, Thomson Newspapers will invest in a $40 million business system that will computerize circulation, advertising, database marketing and finance.

The project will take three years to implement in more than 100 Thomson newspapers.

Significant change

One of the most significant changes in newspaper thinking has been the notion that readers are indeed consumers.

Defining readers as consumers is a giant leap forward not only in the way newspapers define themselves, but also the arena in which they compete.

No longer can newspapers limit their market competition to newspapers. They compete with other media as well.

In order to grow, newspapers have to go beyond their own backyards and challenge tv, radio, magazines and direct mail vehicles such as Admail to increase their share of the advertising pie.

Newspapers are making an enormous commitment to change in their products, in terms of the editorial stance and design.

One of the exciting aspects of newspapers is that every day they can launch a new and improved product.

Appealing content

Newspapers everywhere are adjusting their content mix to be more appealing to modern readers.

There is less emphasis on institutional news, such as council meetings and official statements, and more emphasis on developing stories that have more impact.

There is a move toward local emphasis everywhere. This has always been the special niche of the small newspaper, but, today, even the largest newspapers are moving in that direction.

Several zones

In Winnipeg, for example, The Winnipeg Free Press has set up several zones within the city and is providing special coverage for each of the zones.

The newspaper is making the zoned pages available to advertisers who want to reach only a certain portion of the city, and want to do so at a lower cost than reaching the entire newspaper market.

This is target marketing at its best.

There is an increased emphasis on lifestyle reporting.

Newspapers are developing stories that deal with how we live. The definition of lifestyle is much broader than it used to be and includes what was once called ‘hard’ news.

There is increased attention to sports coverage, with newspapers running more statistics and other data that other media cannot provide.

Newspapers are better organized today than they have ever been, and work continues in this area.

Content has been packaged and organized into a more effective presentation. Regular features are now anchored in a specific part of the newspaper every day.

More color

Today, there is more color in newspapers and the trend will continue. Newspapers have made an enormous commitment to improving their four-color capability, and it shows.

Another trend is in the use of graphics.

Thomson recently conducted a graphics seminar, for example, in which 21 of the company’s best graphic artists were invited to attend three days of training.

The trainers included graphics experts from The Globe and Mail, The Winnipeg Free Press and several other Thomson newspapers, as well as the three top graphics people with the Associated Press in New York.

The seminar participants will now work with other newspapers in their divisions to increase the awareness of graphics and provide training to graphics people at their newspapers.

Improvements in typography provide newspapers with sophisticated headline typefaces and body typefaces.

Headlines are bigger, in many cases, and the body type has been increased virtually everywhere to make it more legible for a population that is getting older.

Most newspapers are writing shorter stories these days. A large number of newspapers, particularly those in the Thomson chain, no longer continue stories off the front page.

With shorter stories, the story count increases and with it, the number of opportunities to interest readers.

The Barrie Examiner just launched a redesigned product April 3. The Winnipeg Free Press, The Guelph Mercury and The Nanaimo Daily Free Press were each redesigned in 1992.

There are at least a dozen more Thomson newspapers that have design projects in the works.

Perhaps the best example of newspapers’ commitment to readers has been in the area of new products.

These products are strategically focussed to meet consumers’ needs and interests and consequently increase newspaper readership and advertising revenue.

These are not simply special sections, but new title supplements that are editorially relevant and consumer-driven.

One example is a new entertainment and celebrity tabloid called CoverSTORY, a free-standing supplement which is available to Thomson and non-Thomson newspapers by subscription.

Currently, 21 Canadian newspapers carry the supplement, with a further 10 in the u.s.

Newspaper research indicated that after general news, entertainment news ranked No. 2 in terms of readership.

With the exception of men aged 34-45, with whom entertainment ranked No. 3, the ranking was consistent regardless of sex, age, income, education, market size and geographical location.

Generally, newspapers are much more sophisticated about what they do, and they are far more focussed than they have been in the past.

They recognize that broadcast media will have a time advantage in breaking and reporting big stories, and so newspapers are adjusting their role to provide depth, background, foresight, explanation and a great deal more detail than ever before.

Mary Koven is vice president, director of product development at Toronto-based Thomson Newspapers, publisher of daily newspapers in 55 markets across Canada.