I have the cure to save newspapers.


St. Petersburg Times

Two posts – one from Eric Deggans and another by Wayne Garcia - prompted me to post.

You see, the newspaper industry is dying. Advertising is down. Classified ads are almost gone. Subscriptions are declining. Faint strains of “Na na na na. Hey hey hey. Good bye.” can be heard all over.

But, like a smoker who refused to stop when diagnosed with emphysema, the news industry’s death is it’s own fault. It is dying because it will not (can not?) adapt fast enough to the changing market place.

Ah, but I have a cure. It’s not easy. Newspapers have to rethink everything. But it’s a three step process.

The first solution: stop printing. There is no need for newsprint when computer storage and bandwidth are continuing to get cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. Delivery costs are going up, especially as fuel charges go through the roof. Paper isn’t getting less expensive either.

The future on news is delivery via the Internet — text, audio, video. It’s easy. It’s becoming ubiquitous. So why hold fast to 500 year old technology?

The second solution: understand the wisdom of crowds. From disseminated reporting to “digg” like functions, news directors need to follow Benjamin Disraeli (“There go my people. I must find where they are going, so I may lead them.“)

Editors and news directors need to stop trying to control what they think is or is not “newsworthy.” Give people the power to create their own, individual “newspaper” by selecting from a wide array of topics and stories. (RSS Feed readers come to mind).

The last solution: fewer stories from a broad angle, and more stories that are targeted to narrow audiences. There is a reason why the Long Tail model works for so many websites. Why can’t news companies understand this?

Until newspapers understand the basic tenets of how the world is changing, they will not understand the cure.

About Jim Johnson

Editor and publisher of The State of Sunshine.
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4 Responses to I have the cure to save newspapers.

  1. Chuck Welch says:

    In January, I wrote about how the Ledger (Lakeland) could become a better paper.

    http://lakelandlocal.com/2008/01/a-perspective-that-matters.html

    In addition to your points, I think local newspapers have to turn back to covering local news. We get our national and international news from the same places the local papers get it: the national bureaus and the papers from those cities. Local papers don’t need to waste space with those stories.

    However, we do need more and better written stories about local concerns.

  2. dcdave says:

    The major problem with newspapers is that although the eyeballs are moving online, the advertising dollars are not.

    Conversely, the reason that newspapers are so successful in growing their online audience is because they have a large and talented reporting staff that creates well written, keyword rich stories that play well with the search engines.

    Unfortunately, this is a catch 22, because as advertising revenue declines, staff will need to be cut, and the newspapers have not demonstrated that they can or know how to produce content at a high level with a barebones staff.

    TV stations are rapidly moving into the same space and it will be interesting to see who is left standing, traditional newspaper sites, more agile TV sites, or outlier online only organizations we haven’t even thought of yet.

  3. BGS says:

    Excellent post. Old-media would be wise to learn from it.

  4. Bryan says:

    dcdave is correct about the revenue stream problem. Newspapers have begun to address some of the problems by using past content to draw online users. One approach makes use of older newspaper content that the newspaper controls.

    Newspapers don’t want to give up the print advertising since it is (historically) lucrative and they had a very strong position in its distribution. Moving online puts the newspapers in competition with other online advertisers–that playing field is too level as it stands.

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