To Survive, Newspapers Must Add Value

Posted on May 30, 2007. Filed under: Main Stream Media, News |

Newspapers are currently in a transitional period because their readers have rejected them as the execlusive source of reliable information and for information about good and services for sale. In the old days, local newspapers could serve (and profit from) readers’ needs for national news even if they did not break the news. They did this by reprinting wire stories. Today, these articles are given away to readers for free. By reprinting these articles (and expecting readers to pay for them), local newspapers add little value and increase their costs.

Newspapers must reposition themselves along at least two dimensions to add value. The first, which has already been alluded to, is their area of coverage. Most newspapers need to become more local in focus. Readers cannot get good local news coverage by reading free wire articles on the Internet. They can (and do) get local information from blogs, but well written local news reporting is a niche that newspapers can still dominate. Newspapers can dominate blogs if they concentrate on feeding blogs with high-quality content. Also they can, must, and should buy the best blogs. Newspapers should encourage bloggers to link to their articles by putting links to blogs on their pages. The Washington Post does this. The New York Times does not. Yet.

The other dimension is the news cycle itself. In order to add value, newspapers could provide enhanced news analysis and longer articles. Blogs do this, but newspapers could do it better. By moving to the analysis side of the news cycle, newspapers could add value.

The last one involves how reporters are managed. In many big publications, there are still divisions between web journalists and print journalists. Print journalists have greater prestige. But this duplication of staff can’t continue. It’s too expensive.

None of these recommendations will automatically make newspapers profitable quickly. Advertising revenues play a big part in the equation and a lot of those dollars have migrated to the web. Currently, web advertisers pay less than print advertisers. But that will change. Finally, it may be time to recognize that newspapers don’t have to be large, bureaucratic organizations to survive. For some, this will take some of the prestige out of the business. But news on the internet is now so disaggregated that it is consumed in chunks and monitored best through feeds.

Readers will pay for content on the web and in print that they can’t get anywhere else. Show them the value.

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    "Writing editorials is like wetting your pants in a blue serge suit. It feels good, but nobody really notices."

    --Jack Germond

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