I recently took a walk down memory lane and revisited the 1980s arcade game Paperboy, which spawned many “remakes” and versions released for video gaming systems including some around today. Today I’d like to offer you five things newspapers could learn from that game.
- Get the news in your customers’ hands. Paperboy does whatever he has to do in order to get the newspaper to his customers. Avoiding pedestrians and break dancers? No problem. Zombies? No problem. Newspapers outside the game world should also go to any lengths necessary to get their news to their customers. I don’t know how newspapers can do that when they are hacking their staffs apart. There are few left to do this work.
- If someone does not read your newspaper, hit them over the head with it. In the 1980s arcade game Paperboy, the paperboy vandalizes the houses of non-subscribers. In other versions of the game, Paperboy receives points for getting the newspaper to hit certain targets in non-subscribers’ yards. While I’m not advocating vandalism, newspapers need to figure out a way to get non-subscribers to see the paper. If they never look at it, they won’t buy it. And if they do look at it but can get the exact same product for free online, why pay? If you want people to pay, you have to offer them something they can’t get for free and show them it so they want it. The paper version has to have something different than online OR you have to start charging for online stories like you do the paper version.
- Celebrate your successes. Tell your readers (whether in print or online) what you do well. When Paperboy gets a week’s worth of newspapers delivered successfully to his customers, a banner headline pops up proclaiming this. While newspapers shouldn’t be patting themselves on the back for simply delivering the paper, they should spend more time pointing out to readers what they do well. For example, why don’t newspapers remind readers that the journalists are the public’s eyes and ears? This is simplistic, but what about the occasional reminder along the lines of this: “You’re busy. You have to juggle work, family and a million other tasks. We understand. You can’t be there, but you care. We will be there for you and tell you what you need to know. Just like we have been for decades.”
- If you move too slowly, you will be pushed in a direction you don’t want. When Paperboy did not move quickly enough to deliver the news, he was pushed by winds or swarms of bees. Newspapers have been slow to react to the online transition. The longer they wait, the longer they don’t take chances, the more likely they will be pushed in a direction they don’t want. It may already be too late, but I hope not.
- Above all, stay alive. Paperboy had to avoid everything from traffic hazards to tornadoes in order to stay alive on his delivery route and get the news in people’s hands. Newspapers have to battle financial problems that threaten to kill the industry. Paperboy did what he had to do to avoid his obstacles. Newspapers must do the same. If keeping the news organization alive requires new ways of thinking and taking chances, do it. If keeping the news organization alive means putting most of your effort into the online, not paper, version of the product, do it. If keeping the news organization alive means being different and going out on the proverbial limb all by yourself, do it. Be like Paperboy. Be brave. Or you’ll lose your job.