No news is good news

I had my doubts about this study. I was pretty sure studying English-language newspaper reading was not really going to reveal the insights the client had hoped.

They, of course, were looking for direction on how to capture the attention of this multicultural, vibrant city, likely in a single series of news stories. I attempted to “manage their expectations,” to tell them that one field study, even with a large group of people, would probably not get them that single flash of insight, that silver bullet, to solve all their business problems. My initial data came to confirm this.

First, there was the millennial young woman, living in a pristine, modern apartment, and had never heard of this newspaper, even though she knew everything about So You Think You Can Dance (#SYTYCD, FTW), and literally lived down the street from the newspaper’s headquarters. Then there was the older, divorced Portuguese woman who showed me a two-page spread in this very newspaper, and systematically pointed out each middle-aged White man on the page, and explained that “this is not for me.”

But the final nail in my “this study ain’t workin’” coffin was the moment when I sat down with a Chinese-Canadian man in his 50s (exactly the “new” reader this newspaper wanted), who claimed he “read” the newspaper everyday. After only 10 minutes, it was plain that this gentleman didn’t really speak English, much less read an English-language newspaper 4–7 times per week. So I asked, “When you say you ‘read the paper,’ what does that mean for you?”

In halting English, he replied that he opened the physical paper (he worked at hotel and there were plenty of copies), and moved the pages from left to right, all the way through the first section, and sometimes even a second section. He liked the pictures, and sometimes the headlines “were good.” I thanked him. He smiled.

Just because you go into the field, doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly give your clients the solution to what can only be called a seismic shift in their industry. Just because you get to know people doesn’t mean you can fix your clients’ problems. In the end, I told this client that to reach these people, they needed to understand that their tradition was out of date, and while respectable, needed significant shifts to meet what people considered “reading the news.”