Google-proofing your newspaper by building content that doesn’t work on an iPhone and begs to be hung on the fridge

Here’s another installment from my e-mail interview with the California Newspaper Publishers Association from earlier this year:


The digital concept, where content plays nice on desktop and mobile devices (and clocks zillions of eyeballs) doesn’t apply here. How much does that “emotional connection” of ink-on-paper in-hand fit this scenario? And can you contrast this type of more leisurely reading vs. mobile?

These weekly newspapers live within the ecosystem of the Orange County Register. That means the Register does regional sports like the Angels and big statewide political issues and all of the important national and international stories. The Register also does all of the breaking news, whether that’s a big local story or a much bigger national or state story.

To get our weekly papers, you literally have to be a subscriber to the Register. That meant we could focus on what weekly papers do really well and not worry about all of the other stuff. In some ways, we function much more like a really well-done and localized Sunday magazine that just happens to think your daughter placing first in a local piano competition is important.

I’ve always said that our content should really be media agnostic. I was wrong; that happens a lot. 

The content we’re putting in these papers really is meant to work best on newsprint. When you see the stories we’re telling and how we’re telling them, it’s hard imagine someone getting anything even close to the same experience by taking their iPhone to the bathroom and trying to read them.

As I said in my note to our readers (when the Register’s weekly papers were relaunched), the irony in this approach might be that in a world filled with technology, where we can find out almost anything we want by simply reaching into our pockets and grabbing our mobile phone, a real community newspaper offers things that not even the most powerful Internet search engine can: a real understanding of what it is like to live and love in your hometown … in a form you can hang on your refrigerator.

Grab one of our weekly newspapers, pick any story, then go to Google and see if you can find that story some place else on the interwebs. You can’t. These papers are filled with stories that only we are telling. That’s by design. And we aren’t afraid to tell the local stories that readers love and that many news organizations quit telling decades ago.

Some folks say that people quit cutting out newspaper stories and putting them on their fridge because they started making refrigerator doors out of steel. I think it has a lot more to do with people not seeing things in their local newspaper that they would want to hang on their fridge.


What can we share with other newspaper people that might inspire their own revivals? (Can you share a style guide, maybe, or a road map you’ve created for staff?)

As our new publisher Aaron Kushner says, our secret sauce really is to do everything we can to first be relevant and then be essential. This really is a reader-based initiative.

I’ve worked at so many newspapers where you will hear a reporter or an editor say something like: “Our readers are idiots.” Well, we don’t feel that way at all. We adore our readers.


Our CNPA folks last saw you onstage a few years back at our San Francisco convention. Gotta ask about how this newspaper project compares to your gigs in Las Vegas and D.C. (Briefly compare and contrast the three situations.)

This really isn’t like anything I’ve ever done, though I’ve certainly been collecting lessons from the school of hard knocks through the entire time. And what I don’t remember from the scars, I remember via the Google searches. Five years ago, I couldn’t have done the job that Ken Brusic and Aaron have asked me to do here at the Orange County Register, but at this exact moment, I’m not sure there’s another editor in the country more up for this challenge.

Aaron likes to remind people that this isn’t an experiment. In experiments, you can fail. We aren’t going to fail.


Part one of this interview: Making weekly newspapers matter in a metro market

Part two of this interview: Better understanding reader needs, and moving to become the ‘paper of interesting’ instead of just being the ‘paper of record’

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Dad. Journalist. Nerd. Music lover. Baseball fan. Puckhead.