The Readers Lied, Earl

In Sunday's newspaper, Sun-Sentinel Editor Earl Maucker gave us a tutorial on what sells in the business of journalism, or, more precisely, what doesn't sell. Namely "sensational" news, or at least not in a "meaningful" way. Note to Earl: Sales have nothing to do with meaning -- you either get them or you don't. Here's a key graph:

Yes, a major story like the tragedy at Virginia Tech will make the front page, but day in and day out, we gear our content to be helpful and useful for the readers we serve. That's what our readers have told us they want.

Here we go again -- more "Help Team" babble. Well, I think we can officially call the marketing-driven Help Team experiment a miserable failure -- not only in terms of quality journalism but in the realm of sales that Maucker apparently knows so much about. From Editor and Publisher today:

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale was down 8.6% to

226,591 while Sunday fell 6% to 319,103.

That's a major loss -- much worse than the national average and poorer than the Miami Herald's showing (that paper lost 5.5 percent, so it has no reason to celebrate either). Meanwhile, the New York Post, which publishes that insustainable "sensational" crap, "soared" to a 7.6 percent increase. (Anybody have the Palm Beach Post numbers?)

Look, I'm not endorsing the NY Post's style of journalism, but it's clear that this "Usepaper" crap was a bad idea for the Sentinel. Dismal, really, since the newspaper sold its soul to the marketing side and didn't get anything in return but a crappy product and a plummeting circ.

(Oh and another interesting part of the column is where Maucker admits that the three front-page photos of VT spree killer Cho Seung-Hui were "a bit over the top" and more than he was "comfortable with." I agree, but it begs the question: Where was Earl when the decision was being made?)

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman