Yes, we are just trying to sell newspapers

My “Todd Tour 2010” has taken me to some neat places in recent weeks, including:

Austintown Rotary

Park Vista

Boardman Kiwanis

Youngstown Blockwatch meeting

I enjoy escaping our windowless castle on Front Street. Inevitably, however, one line pops out at these huddles, and it happened at the block-watch event this week at the Covelli Centre.

A city official looked at me and said:

“You are just doing that to sell newspapers ...”

(Stand back ... Get between the two of them ... Someone dial 9 and 1 in case the beefy newspaper guy blows it ...)

Puhlease ...

The truth is: We ARE trying to sell newspapers.

And Panera IS trying to sell bread and coffee, by the way.

Before I go further with the how and why, let me play with “The Line” a bit.

“The Line” is usually delivered in one of two ways: either like James Dean or Al Pacino.

The James Dean-cool person says it out of the side of his mouth, whispering and mumbling. He’s watched “All The President’s Men” a couple of hundred times and therefore knows our business A to Z.

The Al Pacino person is like the “And Justice for All” lawyer frothing and pointing and yelling, “You’re out of order, and you’re out of order ...” These folks are angry from the first word.

I listen to them both the same, but I resist engaging the latter in the truth:

You’re right. We are trying to sell newspapers.

But here’s where the fact gets in the way of perception:

Seventy percent of the papers we need to sell each day are already sold before we even put the finishing touches on the front page.

Sold. It’s one of the enviable parts of our job, and we thank those 70-percenters for being subscribers.

So when we hit the streets with a headline or photo deemed to be sensational, only a small fraction of our business is yet to be attained at the various coffee stores and news racks around town.

And if you dive into that 30-percent statistic a bit further, half or more of that crowd likely would buy the paper if it was wrapped around a largemouth bass. They’re loyal, just like home subscribers.

So you’re looking at about 5 percent to 10 percent of our daily sales, at best, pulled in by a tantalizing headline or photo.

That small of a number is not worth selling our nightly ability to sleep without guilt.

We do decide and package news with the idea of selling newspapers.

We worry about the entire paper, which is why lifestyles and classifieds garner as much supervisory attention as the front page.

This week, I had as long a conversation on wedding and engagement news as I did on an upcoming Sunday package on government double-dippers.

We’re aware of names, words and images that garner more public attention than others. That feedback comes more from the 70 percenters than the 30 percenters.

The 70 percenters want to know about crime, fatalities and misdeeds. And they also want high school graduations, entertainment events and Sudoku.

So yes, you are 100 percent correct:

We are just trying to sell newspapers.

But let’s keep that between us, OK?

And resist going Pacino on me.

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