A Year Without Newspapers Interview

I’ve been following @adamvincenzini’s experiment, a year without newspapers, for several weeks.  With a strong interest in media and the changing PR landscape, I decided to interview Adam to learn more about his motivation behind this project.

For those of you who don’t know Adam, he is a PR consultant with more than 10 years experience on both sides of the globe.  His career has included stints with Hill & Knowlton in both Australia and the UK, managing PR for the Australia cricket team, and currently is a consultant at London-based Paratus Communications (www.paratuscommunications.com) where he is increasingly blending traditional media with social / digital channels.

Adam launched his own Blog, The Comms Corner in November 2009 to look at the evolution of PR on the back of the surge in social / new media adoption, while passing on some advice / help along the way.  As part of this ‘journey’ he decided to give up newspapers for 12 months from January 1, 2010, to see what a ‘newspaper-less’ life would be like…

Here is my Q&A with Adam:

Q1:  How did you come up with the idea/experiment to stop reading newspapers for an entire year?

It was New Year’s Eve and I was doing some pre-party shopping with a friend. On the way back the train station I spotted a newsstand, had some spare change in my pocket and bought a copy of The Sun (the UK’s most popular daily).  We got talking about New Year’s resolutions on the journey back (while I paid more attention to my paper, obviously) before I jokingly said: “Wouldn’t it be funny if I gave up newspapers for a year.”  After initially laughing it off, I thought there might be something in it, especially due to the timing.  The year 2009 had been an incredibly tumultuous year for print media, with bad news about its future becoming an all to regular occurrence.  But, as far as I could tell (based on a quick search), these worrying forecasts were predominantly based on quantitative indicators as opposed to qualitative ones.

Upon further investigation, I couldn’t find anyone (from a media-related field) who had ever done something similar and chronicled the experience.  Time was ticking at this stage and I had to get ready for my NYE party so I had one last flick through that copy of The Sun, took a deep breath and said goodbye to newspapers for 365 days…hoping (aka praying!) that my little sacrifice would be worth it…

Q2: Do you think the experiment is harder or easier than you expected it to be?

Like any ‘habit’ it has been a very difficult one to break.  For as long as I can remember, my day has started with a newspaper (or two), another one or two over lunch and then another one on the way home. That’s maybe an hour of newspapers a day?  So to begin with, the tangible / physical element of the experiment was incredibly challenging (represented by the video I shot during week two http://thecommscorner.blogspot.com/2010/01/mission-impossible-avoiding-newspapers.html).  Once I dealt with my ‘separation’ issues, the intangible challenges came to the surface, most significantly being the ‘narrowing’ of knowledge I feel I am experiencing.

I’m just not taking in the same breadth of news as I was, which no matter how you look at it, can only be a negative thing.  I could also argue that it has been easier than I expected because it’s been exactly 50 days since I read a paper and I haven’t come close to caving in…yet.

Q 3: Now that you are not reading newspapers, what is your next best source for news and information?

People, definitely, followed by Twitter, Google Reader and All Top. My BlackBerry has also become even more integral in my news gathering routine, making the most of apps / sites that deliver news straight to my handset.  The one that has surprised me has been breakfast radio – my initial plan was to religiously listen to the radio each morning as their programmes are essentially dictated by each morning’s papers, which would mean I’d get my fix that way.

But, I haven’t done that as much as I thought. I’ll try and catch some breakfast TV if I can, but it has mainly been people – either in person or via Twitter / Social Media – that have filled the void thus far.

Q4 – How do you feel about the subscription based newspaper model?  Do you think that would help newspapers to be more profitable and would consumers adopt this model?

The experiment has confirmed one fear I had from the very start: by taking newspapers out of the equation, quality would be replaced by quantity.  So, from that perspective, I’d happily be a poster child for Rupert Murdoch and the subscription-based model.  But would the average consumer see it that way? I’m not so sure.  The best indication I think we have is the way music is obtained / consumed.  For guaranteed high quality music, you’d head straight to iTunes and happily pay what the ‘product’ is worth.  If quality is not a factor for you, a method of obtaining music without paying (i.e. via a file sharing client) is probably the way you’d go.  @TrevorYoung shared a term with me recently which, for me, sums up it up really nicely: we are experiencing a ‘niche-ification’ of media consumption at present, and subscription-based models are just one element of this evolution.

Q5 Would you ever consider a year without consumer magazines, books or trade publications?  How hard/easy do you think this experiment would be?

Great question and easy to answer…for me.  I think I could get by without magazines and trade publications, but I think I’d really struggle without books.  Actually, to be more specific, I couldn’t live without books about people. I read Michael J Fox’s biography, Lucky Man, at least once a year to remind myself of how lucky I am. I’ll reach for High Concept, the biography of the now deceased Hollywood producer, Don Simpson, to remind myself of the perils of excess.

Without being too over-the-top, there’s no way I’d be who I am today without the influence of the books I’ve read over the years.  As people, the one thing we have in common, is life’s ‘journey’ and nothing can give you that perspective like a book can…or as I’m finding, newspapers for that matter!