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How to lose newspaper readers

Newspapers are having a rough go as readers increasingly look to the Web for news. Newspapers have to focus on strengths to keep their readers. That means original reporting and local reporting.

My local paper in Montreal is the Gazette – at least, it’s the major English paper. It relies on newswire reports for international news, which can be ignored if you’ve already read that online. With its columns and original reporting on local news, the paper does an adequate job. Outside of that, the paper offers little of value. Outside of that, any paper without foreign correspondents of its own offers little of value.

In the business section today (p. B7), the paper had an article on research into work-at-home types, sponsored by SonicWALL, and it directed readers to the SonicWALL Web site for further info.

The article is based on a SonicWALL press release from March 1, 2006. That’s more than five months ago, and the information has already been relayed elsewhere online and in the traditional press.

How does printing this article in the Gazette add value? The article was written by a Gazette reporter, Mike King, and not a wire service, but there’s no local angle. At least one part of it is just plain wrong. The workers were not “recently surveyed” – the survey ran at the end of 2005. When did the interview with the SonicWALL VP take place, then? When did King write the article?

This is shoddy journalism. There’s a better use for the column inches, such as the article in the same section on the relative values of traditional phone lines versus Internet-based phone services in power blackouts. That’s topical and important, and it’s in the business section because former Bell subscribers are returning in the wake of last week’s thunderstorm.

It’s this sort of lazy editorship and reporting that will continue to cost a newspaper its readers. Don’t replicate non-local online press-release fodder, especially if it’s five months old.

For the record, as a work-at-home type who has read the SonicWALL press release: no comment.

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