Advertisers are ignoring newspapers because readers are ignoring newspapers. Is it content or just the mode of delivery? I don't think newspaper people themselve know. From the Washington Post omsbudman: "So I, too, worry about the future of newspapers. They are central to an informed citizenry, and their special role cannot be filled by competing media....But this decline....may signal a growing public disengagement from more in-depth news, or perhaps that more and more people prefer not to be confronted with reporting or commentary that challenges their views."
About that last bit: blaming your consumer may be comforting, but it's hardly a good way to build readership. I would also argue that many NYTimes readers are not exactly having their world views challenged by the likes of Maureen Dowd.
But that's a content issue. What about the package? Which brings us to that first part: I think newspapers are NOT central to an informed citizenry. They're part of the mix. Newspaper people are like milkmen 40 years ago. They're faced with consumers who can get the product themselves -- buying how much they need, when they need it -- instead of waiting for some guy to deliver it to them on his schedule. What to do? Newsosaur (a blog!) suggests "media-agnostic" upheaval, (taking the paper out of newspapers?) and leveraging newspapers' "brands." But precious few newspapers are true "brands" anymore.
There are people who know a little something about brands and media-agnostic approaches to attracting consumers. They're called ad people. They're already in the TV programming business so could they possibly help -- naw. Forget it. I'm just talking crazy talk now. Besides, newspapers just love those folks from McKinsey.