AKRON (TDB) -- It turns out that traditional news readers aren't the dominant crowd coming to the Akron Beacon Journals's newspaper website Ohio.com. For the past week, the top 10 stories have all been sports reports. It all the kind of stuff -- baseball, football, who might be traded etc -- that is standard sports section fare.
In fact, not a single news story ranks shows up in the 24 items that the newspaper website listed as its 24 "most viewed" articles. Just two of 24 were not sports-related -- the real estate transfers, and comics & games. Suddenly, the stats are proving that the lights have dimmed on what editors and many journalists thought was the heart and soul of their business -- routine government reporting. Sportswriting had passion. City room reporters were supposed to deliver bland presentations without really any heart, or soul. Every newsroom (according to a newspaper biz inside joke) had a "dull-a-tron," a mythical device that all stories were run through to remove anything hinting at passion, heart or soul.
Ohio.com is a valuable Internet nameplate, a piece of cyber real estate that goes far beyond the Akron Beacon Journal's reach as a print publication circulated in and around that Northeast Ohio city. Ohio.com creates a sense of the entire state, a market with more than 11 million people. Still, it's biggest hits come from sports -- Browns, Indians, LeBron, et al. The folks who run Ohio.com are honest and open enough to let their visitors know what is popular. Newspaper sources tell me that what is openly disclosed on Ohio.com is pretty much what is happening on the websites of the dailies in Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo -- most everywhere. Their top draws are sports stories, not news stories.
What does this foretell for the future of newspapers? The old business model is seriously out of whack. There may not be a mass market any longer for what has passed as local news, which is reporting based on geography. The idea that there are large groups of people who live in one city -- say Akron -- who want to read about some routine event in another -- say Cleveland -- certainly appears to be dead, or dying. At least, it looks that way on the 'net. We saw it this week on Ohio.com -- the 24 most viewed items on a newspaper website, and not one involved news.