The Evil Cousin Irrelevance

Thank you, Nieman Lab, for defining IRRELEVANCE so newspapers can determine how to get back Relevance.

After simply asking news subscribers why they canceled, researchers at the Nieman Foundation of Harvard University detailed five core reasons.

No. 1: Money (31 percent).

No. 2: Ideology or politics (30 percent).

No. 3: Content isn’t good enough (13 percent).

No. 4: Too much to read, too little time (13 percent).

No. 5: Customer-service issues (12 percent).

They add up to Irrelevance.

Each is potentially toxic. They’re also a call to action.

For staters: Turn on the urgency to replace them with Relevance.

Ignorance will get you cancelled.

Discovering Irrelevance is a matter of matching the Nieman-confirmed reasons to a newspaper’s performance and being unable to eliminate the problem.

Don’t feed the turkey vultures with irrelevance.

Developing Relevance means having an answer for each threat and beating it out of the operation everyday. Think along with The Relevance Project.

For example:

On money: Just don’t put out a newspaper. Financial justify the price you charge with a meticulous adherence to adding up the benefits of each publication or online offerings. Total them up so they at least equal what you charge. Address where you fall short. Report periodically to your subscribers a justification. Explain. Transparency is important, research shows.

On ideology or politics: Focus on issues and facts, not inflaming politics and rhetoric. Be strong, but smart. Can you live without opinions since social media is awash with it? Ticking off loyal readers is dumb and turning off potential subscribers is nowhere-land. Better yet, be THE Community Forum. (Read the Continuing Series in the Relevant Points section of )

On crappy content: Cutting coverage and charging more is a losing proposition. You might win a short-term budget goal but don’t expect it to last. Renew ongoing efforts to learn what your readers want and deliver it. Favor quality over quantity but realize readers want more quality. No arguments, please.

On no time to read: Is it they have no time to read in general, or no time to read what YOUR newspaper produces? Win the competition for eyeballs with a vigorous purpose for publishing. Here’s an idea: Grab a stopwatch and watch readers with your publication. What did you learn? What do they really read? Make that a daily exercise.

On customer service: You can publish the best newspaper in the world, but if you can’t deliver it on time, or your technology frustrates, or there’s no one to answer an inquiry, it doesn’t matter. Everyone on staff should be able to handle a customer call — and welcome it. A publisher who excelled at customer service once advised to look for “friction” with subscribers and advertisers. The moment you find it, fix it.

Nieman Lab said it received more than 500 responses to a request for readers to tell their stories about recent cancellations. Researchers found the comments “largely thoughtful and detailed.”

Even more reason to stay out of the dark side of IRRELEVANCE and move into the light of Relevance. It won’t happen without awareness, understanding and commitment.

–Tom Silvestri

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