Recently the Detroit Free Press announced that it’s going to cut print editions and focus on its digital offerings. The reaction in the stagnant newspaper industry (which I know well, having spent more than a decade in it) was shock. The reaction among digitally-savvy consumers: It’s about friggin’ time!

Honestly, the paradox that is newspaper management–“We must change! But we don’t want to actually do it! So what should we do?!”–is one reason I left the industry. Yet I still have a soft spot for something that used to be my raison d’etre. I want to give some advice to all other daily news publications, speaking as someone who was once one of them. Hopefully, they’ll take some of this to heart and manage to survive 2009 and beyond.

Maintain a relationship with your readers. One reason that newspapers won’t give up the ghost is because of that small but fiercely loyal group of senior citizen readers. Back in the day (that includes when I was an elementary schoolkid, cutting out articles for Current Events class) newspapers strove to be the voice of the community. And the community more or less respected their authority, even if they fiercely opposed an opinion or article from time to time. Today, that relationship between reader and paper is different–especially when most people don’t read the paper from cover to cover anymore.

With SMS or email, you can make the news more customized for the reader. He or she can sign up to receive alerts on stories about “entertainment” or “sports” or “local crime.” The reader will feel like The Daily News Journal really gives him or her the information she or he was wondering about anyway. Plus, SMS or email marketing messages can be easily customized to address the subscriber by name, making them even more personal.

Offer value. There are a great many newspaper subscribers whose main focus is getting those Sunday coupons and sales fliers. Now, they can get coupons via email or, even better, SMS. So why not have the ad sales department at a newspaper start up digital couponing? The advertiser can pay to have their coupons offered in The Daily News Times’ subscription-only coupon messaging service. Consumers would sign up for this service, free of charge to them, to receive coupons for local restaurants, the mom-and-pop cafe, the town’s major shopping mall, etc. National ad sales bureaus could also sell the opportunity to major household or entertainment brands, and work with local newspapers everywhere to distribute these coupons as well.

Milk the multi-channel. Newspapers already own a print medium! So they should use it to their advantage. Most papers reserve a few column inches in which they run “house ads” promoting the publication. So they should use these to promote the shortcode to which they must text in order to subscribe to The Daily News Tribune’s news and coupon alerts. Papers can also promote an email address for consumers who prefer to receive this kind of information via email. Mobile marketers in all kinds of other industries know the effectiveness of a multi-channel campaign. Newspapers are sitting on a gold mine.

Major features can still run. For, like, decades I’ve heard that “the younger generation” hates reading and as a whole are illiterate. That’s not true–they’ll read what interests them, whether a zine by their favorite hardcore band or the sports pages plugging their friend’s Little League team. So please, please don’t dumb down articles or pander to readers by writing what you think they want to hear! Instead, promote the heck out of the news feature or series on which a reporter spent a lot of time and effort researching and writing. Use SMS or email as teasers: “What do the mayor and Hugo Chavez have in common? Find out Sunday in The Daily News Herald!”

It’s almost unbelievable that newspapers haven’t already been doing all this. The newspaper’s struggle has been lengthy, turning to consolidations and JOAs and skeleton crews to survive, and seeing increasingly fewer readers for their efforts. True, cynics might say that the papers’ lack of quality content is to blame. But these days, getting the information into a medium consumers want is just as important.

Eydie Cubarrubia, Marketing Communications Manager, mobileStorm

“I’d rather you text me”