Monday, June 27, 2022
June 27, 2022

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From the Newsroom: Following the Oreo principle

By , Columbian Editor

I think by now most of the reporters and editors at The Columbian have heard this analogy from me about six times, so let me share it with you: Newspapers need to be like Oreo cookies.

Back in the 1960s, Oreos were a consistent product: Two chocolate wafers with just the right amount of sugar cream between them. When Mom bought a package, my sister and I were in for a treat.

It was the same with newspapers: We took the Spokesman-Review in the morning and the Spokane Daily Chronicle in the afternoon. They presented the local, national and international news in consistent black and white.

Now, there are apparently at least 52 Oreo products, according to its website. In addition to original cookies, there are my favorite lemon Oreos, and gluten-free, and Double Stuff and even a carrot cake Oreo. Nabisco is making a big effort to reach consumers by tailoring to new and niche tastes.

But the new products are still Oreos. If you buy them, you can expect to get a cookie consisting of two crisp round wafers with cream filling.

I see this being the recipe for the newspaper business. We need to sell an array of products today’s consumers want to buy. These products need to have traditional news in the center, holding them together.

The printed newspaper is the original product, and I think people will continue to buy it. But other consumers want to get their news from our website, our e-edition, our mobile app, our newsletters and social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We need to honor those desires with diverse products.

Yet we need to meet these new demands in the traditional way. Allow me to explain why I think old-fashioned can be a modern thing, and why we are striving to stay that way.

  • Front page: By “front page,” I mean the first thing you see when you engage with us, whether that’s the first page of the newspaper, the top of our home page or the loading screen of our app. I think this page should continue to contain a curated mix of the best and most important stories of the day. There should always be something local. Beyond local, we try to prioritize stories about Washington state and stories that are fresher in the news cycle.
  • Local news: The heart of The Columbian. I like that we still have a dedicated local news page. Most newspapers our size have abandoned this page and display local stories on the front page and the following page or two. To me, this is an excuse to run fewer local stories.
  • Editorials: We still offer a daily opinion page with a staff-written editorial. Greg Jayne, who writes most of them, tries very hard to write primarily about local and state issues. I like to think these editorials help readers understand our issues and frame the debate. We also try to print all of the letters to the editor we receive, prioritizing them over syndicated columns and cartoons.
  • Sports: Local sporting events, particularly high school sports, create a community. We have the most prep sports coverage in the Pacific Northwest, I think, with summaries of all the contests, and plenty of interesting, inspiring feature stories about local athletes.
  • Life: Most daily newspapers have abandoned lifestyles coverage, and instead limit themselves to syndicated content such as puzzles, comics and a TV grid. We still emphasize local content ranging from Monika Spykerman’s engaging cooking stories to Scott Hewitt’s bright writing about arts and culture. Freelancers such as Martin Middlewood provide takes on local history, gardening, music and dining.

It’s true newspapers aren’t what they used to be. Our industry remains mired in a transition of the business model from advertising-supported to reader-supported. If we look to a product as simple — and complicated — as Oreos, we can find a path to the future.


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