Posted on May 1, 2012 in Future of News | 0 comments

I spend a fair amount of time in forums discussing news, both newspapers and digital news. I am struck by how often someone will chime in with “My grandmother won’t read news online” or “I don’t own a smartphone” or “I like paper coupons” as if those lone opinions somehow underscore a business case for favoring print.

Now don’t get me wrong, it is true that there is a demographic associated with every one of those statements. But alone, one person’s opinion is not in itself proof of a trend, a market size, or even a powerful and resilient demographic.

Too often an editor or publisher makes business decisions based on their own personal world view, or based on the views and experiences of the newspaper people with whom they associate. This is a mistake that can kill an industry.

I came to the newspaper industry by way of the information design and user experience world, serving for over a decade as an information architect (or IA in Silicon Valley parlance). Information architecture is defined by Richard Saul Wurman as “the structure or map of information which allows others to find their personal paths to knowledge.”

While a trained IA or user experience designer might develop solid user interfaces through natural instinct, we are trained early on not to design for what we would find intuitive ourselves, but for what the intended users (profiled into market segments or demographic archetypes), would find intuitive. This is one of the basic principles of user-centered design: you must think outside yourself and continually test your assumptions.

I have worked for several years in marketing as well, and I know that marketing folks have similar tenets: don’t rely on positioning that would sway you, the writer, but instead think about what positioning would most influence your targeted demographic markets.

And so I would strongly urge decision makers in the news industry (heck, everyone in the news industry!) to spend more time thinking not about what they would like, but where their advertisers and their readership are headed. Study the facts and figures. Looks at trends and analysis. You know how to find sources, and of course you can get most of the data you need from Pew Research (, Nielsen, NAA, and comScore.  

Just don’t assume that you, or your grandmother, are representative of the demographic you are targeting.

I’ll leave you with one personal case in point: I don’t particularly like Facebook. Surprising perhaps, from someone whose work includes helping news organizations embrace social media. I consult on Facebook strategies, I help organizations build powerful Facebook presences, and I integrate Facebook on a systems level. Does this mean I spend much time on Facebook myself? Not at all. (Not that I’m a social media curmudgeon; I practically live on LinkedIn.)

My point is, you may love everything about newsprint, you may not own a smartphone, and you may loathe Twitter. You don’t have to change yourself; you just have to recognize that you are not the target audience for the future of the news industry.