Ken Doctor

Media Analyst, Nieman Journalism Lab

Ken Doctor is a media analyst whose Newsonomics column appears on the Nieman Journalism Lab website. Doctor previously was Vice President for Content Services for Knight Ridder Digital and Managing Editor of the Saint Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press.


A monthly unique or even a weekly unique number is not very meaningful. It’s not meaningful to subscription or to advertising, and it’s really engagements. You want those repeat customers who are going to make a big difference. I was talking with the CEO of the New York Times this morning, for instance. They were talking about the app that they have and how important their app is to them because people who have the app will tend to use it eight to 10 times more than people who just use their browser. This is not new information in the industry, yet you’ll find very few newspaper companies that have developed a satisfactory app that’s going to help engagement.

The major attraction and the major disappointment has been the failure to sell digital subscriptions. While we see that working at a great level at the national publications like The Times, The Post, The Journal, and at FT, et cetera, we have not seen similar success for local newspapers.

The idea of supplying local advertisers with digital marketing services seems like a really good idea, but it has not done that much to replace lost print revenue.

We don’t see much product experimentation or differentiation in the newspaper experience.

There’s very little difference in terms of editorial strategies. It’s kind of a one size fits all. ... You don’t see the kind of things that, for instance, The New York Times is doing with cooking or crosswords, they’re going to do it with parenting. They’re not recognizing niches. There’s a couple of sports verticals that have been tried; those were also tried 10 and 15 years ago. But very few, and part of it is a lack of imagination and part of it is simply there are not enough resources to test new products.

the secondary part of it is 66 percent of reading, of news reading, is mobile, yet the mobile news experience for most newspaper companies is pretty poor. It’s a pretty fatal combination when you don’t have the content and you don’t have the product delivery.

If you look at small dailies and large weeklies, they have done better than metros for the last 15 years. They have more sense of community connection. It’s less about digital. It’s about simply having the kind of content that people want and can’t get any other place.