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Spoofs & Satire

New York newspaper office, 1908

The Savior of Newspaperdom

Unless the newspaper honchos invent some brilliant ideas, the broadsheet is dead. A last-ditch brainstorm.

Let’s not mince words: Print media is sinking fast. Our ship has hit the profit-margin iceberg and we are quickly drowning in briny deep shit. We can’t shuffle deck chairs any longer. We need definitive answers and we need them now. How can we squeeze profit out of recycled newsprint, Mary Worth comics, and George Will op-eds? Brace yourself for some ideas that are going to knock the barnacles off your hull, and maybe keep this rusty dreadnaught afloat.

Problem: All these two-bit internet cheapskates don’t want to pay a red nickel for good old gritty, shoe-leather reporting. Solution: Advertising. They get the content, we get the Gucci dollars, and everybody’s happy. But, you say, advertising doesn’t bring in enough revenue. Well, then we just need more of it. Lots more. We fill up that screen with as many ads as we can. Floaters, banners, skyscrapers, pop-ups, pop-downs, interstitials, takeovers, contextuals, unicasts, you name it. Who’s going to complain, some punk reading the news for free? Also: sponsored articles. Think about it. “A bus accident in Cleveland left one dead, injuring 20. Try the new taste of Pepsi Red. Only half the calories and twice the taste.”

People really love the whole viral thing, why not mix it in more? Say Pepsi runs an ad on TV where gorillas break out of a zoo and wreak havoc in the streets. At the end, the gorillas find a Pepsi machine, they drink the Pepsi, the rampage ends, and then we could print a story the next day with the headline, “Gorilla Rampage in Downtown Saskatoon.” It gets people talking. They say, “hey, that’s just like that ad I saw for Pepsi.” Next thing you know, people are chugging Pepsi Red to stop an imaginary gorilla rampage. Better still, it keeps people on their toes if such an event were ever to occur; that’s a public-service Pulitzer waiting to be awarded. For all of you whimpering about journalistic integrity, trust me, Katharine Graham thought of this years ago. We just need to establish a stronger pricing structure.

I know some folks get testy when the facts are slippery, so here’s one that won’t get your feathers ruffled: Human-interest stories. Filler, sure, but John and Janie Velveeta love them. You know who else likes them—the humans that are featured in them. Ever go to one those amusement parks where you can get a copy of the Amusement Times with your face on the front page? ”Susie Chalmers Voted Most Popular Girl in School.” Folks pay $20 for that, and that’s just one piece of paper. Why not distribute across the DC-Boston corridor? Then Susie’s the moxie from here to Maine, and for the right price we’ll even throw in a Krugman column with back-up data. You can’t buy publicity like that—until now. Susie’s going to show up to school and rub that Sunday edition right in Sarah Jenkin’s uppity face.

You put our paper with a cover of two girls being real friendly-like on a newsstand next to USA Today’s weather spread and it’s no contest.Now everyone knows Craigslist stole our classifieds income, so why not explore new markets. Like weddings. Say you’re a lonely bachelor, sick of the bar scene. Sure, you could go on a dating site and lie about being a svelte international businessman, but everybody lies on those things; girls will see right through you. Instead, what if you had a huge wedding announcement—page one, above the fold—connecting you to a beautiful daughter of the sultan of Brunei (or even a made-up country, like Dumai, or Souvlakia). We get one of the copyediting kids in the basement to make the descriptions pop, and then when the ladies see you in the paper, batten down the hatches! Let me tell you, girls go crazy for a married man.

Now let’s talk nudity. Front-page nudity. We may get some blowback on this, but let me phrase it this way: Advertisers will pay good money to the first publisher who pushes that boundary. You put our paper with a cover of two girls being real friendly-like on a newsstand next to USA Today’s weather spread and it’s no contest. The Brits have done it since the Falklands. And why do you think the Times runs all those underwear ads on page 3? A little skimpy derriere makes the international conflict go down smoothly. One more Maureen Dowd column and you’ll need something stronger than a scantily clad co-ed chaser.

If we’re talking about today, we’re also talking about five years from now, 10 years from now. We need to think about a time when this whole internet thing comes to its senses. That means premium content. When people start realizing that Wikipedia ain’t gonna hold their dick when they piss, they’ll come running back to the masthead for safety. Then we really start charging the big bucks online. What if, instead of some useless article about people who like to Twitter while driving, we offer them the greatest, most insightful, most mind-expanding, in-depth investigation into Twittering, driving, Twittering while driving, the fate of Sarah Jessica Parker’s grandchildren and Africa, and whatever else fits. It’ll read like Edward R. Murrow and James Joyce reading poetry underwater on Mars, backwards. If you saw that on the other side of that pay wall, how long before you say, “where do I enter my credit card number?”

The final cost-cutting measure is one I hoped to avoid, but it makes too much sense: 30 percent of the editorial staff will be laid off. It’s not something I wanted to do, but financial concerns have put us into a bind. People are stealing our ad impressions day-in, day-out, by just excerpting, summarizing, and linking to our articles. Just because they don’t like all of our content doesn’t give them the right to highlight the parts they do like. So, from here on out, we will be suing anybody that in any way summarizes the content of our news. This week we’re releasing software that will automatically file motions against any would-be “thought pirates” that link to an article with language beyond “I found these written words fascinating.”

In place of the laid-off employees, though, there is some good news. Hiring is happening! Please get ready to welcome the high-profile marketing team I saw on the side of a bus yesterday. They’re going to try and get our profile a little higher in the online world, which can only boost our profits. Already they’ve got a PR campaign in the works to send press releases to all the hot bloggers out there that might be interested in our content. Exciting things are happening people.