The reason newspapers are boring is a) Fear that anything out of the ordinary will upset the bosses, and b) an imagination failure. Let’s tackle the last problem first.
Look, newspapers, some of them, come out every darn day. After about 10,000 deadlines, new ideas can feel like a distant shore. It’s so much easier to do election results, football gamers, street festivals the way you’ve always done them.
So, want some ideas? I have a few. You don’t have to take any of them, but please let them wash over you and serve as kindling for your own creative fires. If you don’t like these, think up something new for yourself.
- Buy five disposable cameras and give them to amateurs. Give one to a high school senior who is interested in photography. Give one to a kindergartener just for the heck of it. Hand one to a grandmother on a day trip with the senior center. Or give them all to band members who are going to the nationally televised Thanksgiving parade. Turn the results into a feature spread. Include a sidebar from a photo pro with tips on how the amateurs might do better next time. …
- Run a Q&A on the front page. Maybe it’s the new hospital CEO or the high school quarterback. Ask him things that you wouldn’t expect and edit the answers so that it’s chatty and not a big block of gray.
- Publish the high school newspaper. Or the middle school paper. Or a compilation of opinion pieces from elementary school kids. We’re working with the local high school in Half Moon Bay in hopes that we can save them the hassle and expense of printing, then publish their newspaper as a section of ours so that we all benefit from the spirit and journalism of local students.
- Seek new sources. What if you announced to the world that, for one issue only, you would only ask questions of women? What if, instead of constantly quoting the mayor and football coach, you sought out female voices in your community?
- Publish only Instagram photos. For one issue only, run all the photos you use through Instagram filters. Run them square as Instagram does. Include a box on the front page telling readers you are doing it, in part to embrace the very digital tools they themselves use. Ask for feedback. Heck, ask readers if you can use their Instagram pics.
- Devote an issue to a single day in your community. Run a big headline that simply says, “11/8/13.” What happened in schools, in the jail, at the diner, at city hall in one 24-hour period. Explain it in a front-page editorial as an experiment, a way to show just how much actually happens each and every day in your community.
- Take a crack at data visualization. Explain the local hunger problem in a graphic way, with very little prose. Try one of the many online applications that can help you create these things. Seriously, Google “data visualization.”
Get the idea? I’m not wed to any of these. I just want to urge you to try something different. I bet it will be interesting.
The data visualization you see at the top shows the ratio of news to ads in the New York Times on a given day. It was done earlier this year by the folks at PageOneX. You know you want to do this.