A casual glance at the state of media these days would tell you things are changing. Fewer people are reading certain print media, and many more are getting their news from the Internet. This shift means there will be winners and losers as consumer tastes shift and change. The latest example comes from Saint Petersburg, Florida.
After decades of fierce fighting for readers and territory, the media war between the former St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune is over. The recently minted “Tampa Bay Times” beat its rival Tribune, buying then closing the paper last week.
This move motivated the Associated Press to wonder: “If a metro area with 2.7 million people can’t sustain two newspapers – especially with an aging population with the time and inclination to read a printed paper – can anywhere?”
It’s an interesting question, but it assumes too much and understands too little. The Tampa Bay metro area is not the postcard vacation version of the place most folks outside Florida think it is. Sure, there are tremendous beaches and enough condos and hotels to show millions a great time every summer, but the area is not just a Mecca for beach-goers and elderly retirees from the Midwest.
Demographics in the area include a mix of working families, agricultural business, and a growing tech sector. Most folks are simply busy working people, just like they are anywhere else.
These people get their news from electronic devices, more often than not. Those that want “paper news” want accurate reporting that focuses on news stories, not fluff or partisanship. So, let’s look at what these two papers have done in the past decade:
The Tampa Tribune, purchased by Media General, lost focus as resources were shared and spread between print and TV media. Not only was this a logistical mess, quality dropped, and readers noticed. In a cost-cutting move, the paper itself shrunk, not in page count but in size. Suddenly, it looked like a tabloid versus a “real” paper. Folks who liked newspapers defected to the Times.
Then the Trib tried focusing on sports, riding the success of the Bucs and the Lightning to big splashy covers and highlighting recreation. Not a bad thing, but it missed the fact that the people who used to read the paper for local sports had long since gone to radio, TV, and the Internet to get their sports fix.
Meanwhile, the Times continued to win Pulitzers for reporting excellence, and it created Politifact, a fact-checking operation now touted nationwide. The bottom line, the Times focused on the stuff newspaper readers really wanted, while the Tribune did not. It’s really that simple. A major aspect of public relations is giving your fans what they want. When you ignore your core customers in an attempt to be all things to all people – many of whom have no loyalty to your brand – you lose every time.
David Milberg is an entrepreneur based in NYC.