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Archive for March 26th, 2007

QOTD: In great attempts, it is glorious even to fail

Monday, March 26th, 2007

“In great attempts, it is glorious even to fail.”
— Vince Lombardi

“I’m 70… I’m not interested in whatever.com.”

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Today, I took a complaint from a 70-year-old woman.

The woman was completely level-headed and polite in her call. She wasn’t lodging a complaint against me or even against the paper, per se. She was mad about our Web site. She was mad that our Web site existed. And she was really mad that we are always referring to it in the print edition.

“I’m 70 years old,” she began. “I don’t have a computer. I’m never going to get a computer. I’m not interested in whatever .com. I just want my news.”

She referred to a specific column that always runs online as what put her over today. There was a blurb from it in the print edition with a refer to the site to read the rest.

I wasn’t sure what to say, really. This complaint was so counter-intuitive to my training and thinking. I just explained to her that what we put online is supplemental to what runs in the paper. There is still just as much news in the paper as ever before — more, actually, following a complete overhaul of the paper last summer. And I told her that what the Internet allows us to do is add more information that in the past we wouldn’t have been able to fit in the printed paper at all.

Her reply? “If there isn’t enough space to run it in the paper, it shouldn’t run at all.”

Sigh. I don’t know if I made her feel any better, but I think she just wanted to make sure she vented her frustration (and that of her “friends who are also elderly and aren’t interested in the Internet or computers”). Not that it will impact anything, but I did tell the managing editor after I hung up. I figured I should at least let her point be known.

But, this really struck a chord with me. I wonder how many people there are out there like her? In our rush to get more, faster, online… who are we actually leaving behind? Does a 70-year-old reader mean any less than a 27-year-old one? (If you ask the advertisers, yes. But that is beside the point.) I don’t know. True the 27-something has much more potential for future readership, and the 70-year-old has already established a lifetime reading habit she’s unlikely to just quit now. But should we punish her for being old-fashioned or uncomfortable with technology? Should we punish her for being loyal to the dead-tree edition as we lament the declining circulations?

There really isn’t a solution. And unfortunately, this woman and others like her are on the losing side of a battle that’s going to continue for a very long time. The woman’s argument that “computers will be the downfall of us” isn’t new. But for the first time, she made me actually think that there was an opposite to the movement toward online journalism. It doesn’t change my views or opinions, but it has made me more aware and sensitive to the fact that there is a whole facet of the world, including my community, that can’t or simply doesn’t want to “check out more at jconline.com.” It’s worth considering.