As newspapers are more and more imperiled by Internet e-news, veteran CEO/journalist Alan D. Mutter has a fairly long piece on the potential demise or sweeping change lying in store for USA Today, the paper that basically tried to be the Internet news before the Internet was available to the public. The paper is currently observing its 30th anniversary. USA Today, writes Mutter, was founded with the goal of providing the same newspaper experience—packing colorful infographics and short punchy stories, sound familiar?—to readers anywhere in the country.
The paper was aimed primarily at business travelers, who would have expense money to burn and would want to be able to have the same news-reading experience no matter where they were. It ended up being so popular with travelers that hotels and other businesses started distributing it free to help lure its readers in. By now barely more than 1/3 of the paper’s readers, Mutter reports, seems to like it enough to pay for it.
But the paper’s one-time demographic is being attacked on all sides. The business travelers who used to have nothing better to read than it are all packing laptops, tablets, and smartphones. The airlines who used to advertise in it are having problems of their own. And all those businesses who are paying to give it away might find better things, like Internet service, to spend that money on.
And saddled with the cost of printing and distributing 1.8 million papers per day, USA Today has been trying to make the jump to the Internet, though Mutter notes its new Zite packages seem aimed more at generating traffic to its website rather than actually informational. “The result is that the aggregation is less complete than you get at Huffington Post, less illuminating than you get at Real Clear Politics, less stimulating than you get at Drudge Report and less newzy, breezy and sleazy than you can get at TMZ.”
It would seem to me that if any paper ought to be in a good position to make the jump to the Internet, it ought to be the one who was doing Internet-style news before anyone had even heard of the Internet. Certainly its very name is a well-known and respected brand by now. But as with any other paper trying to move to on-line, the question remains how to do it and whether or not they even can.