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Thought Experiment # 1: Don’t suck, newspapers!

When I search twitter using the tag, #newspaper or just newspapers, I often see postings slamming newspapers as relics of a by-gone era, and irrelevant given the emergence of social media and user generated content. Clearly, there are those that still enjoy what newspapers offer, but a growing group, and I suspect a younger group, are saying things like:

From Twitter: @ToughLovetorX said: “@spirospiliadis the thing that really gets me is all the whining from newspapers about the end of the world, when so many of them suck.”

Does this tweet  articulate the crux of the issue for many web savvy readers?  Do Newspapers tend to suck compared to the emerging alternatives?  Does it have to be this way?  Are people too quick to write off the poor old newspaper?

And if so, what does the newspaper industry have to do to gain relevance and acceptance in the new digital world?  Thus, begins the first of my  “Thought Experiment” postings.  What would it take for newspapers to suck less?  Here is a few of my thoughts:

  1. Newspapers, if you are serious about competing to get your lost classified dollars back, build a better product!  It is not a good user experience anymore to buy print in order to get the online portion.   The value proposition is with online these days.  The online only classified sites have created a great interface for posting ads.  Within minutes, you can create a listing, upload multiple images and post your listing.   The savvy sites offer the basic listing for free and then add real value upsells.  And, almost as fast as you can post, you can start getting queries and responses to your listing.  Unfortunately, newspapers are restrained by protecting their print dollars, following strict rules for what ads get posted and how they are worded (oddly, this used to be their strength), and their aging, more affluent, audiences are not creating enough responses to justify the costs of paid classified ads. Once the print ad is gone, the online ad disappears as well.  So change you model.  (And, as a side note, starting auction sites will not recover your lost classified revenues)
  2. Find a way to place nice with the community bloggers.  They don’t have to be your enemies. In fact, instead of continually playing the professional journalist versus amateur blogger card, figure out a way to be the face of local.  Connect with existing bloggers and  find print and online space showcase their best comments.  Identify community leaders and encourage them to use your tools to start their own blogs. Own all local.  That is what will differentiate a local newspaper over the long term.
  3. Newspapers, your audiences are not passive anymore.  They are actively participating in online communities.  They are creating content.  They are sharing content.  They involved in on-going conversations that likely don’t include you.  Embrace the social media channels.  Experiment to find out where your audience is and what they are talking about.  Don’t just create automated feeds to your facebook and and twitter channels of the same content you created for your print and online products.  These channels are not about broadcasting.  They are about building relationships, trust, and dialogue.

Okay, so there are three things I think will make newspapers suck less.  What are your suggestions?

Newspapers: Doom, Gloom, and Inspiration

I read another doom and gloom story for newspapers at the beginning of the day.  Later, I read a second story  that implies a path to redemption for newspapers.  I love when two stories come together to provide inspiration.

Sadly, the blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur, shows that print ad revenues have not re-bounded from the recession as has the ad revenues for Television, radio, and the Internet.  This is troubling new for newspapers and magazines.  For an industry besieged on many fronts, this just another day and another bad news story.  Read the story here:

Reflections of a Newsosaur: Make no mistake: Newspapers are still in trouble — http://mtn.bz/dgbcyH

On the other hand, the second story today  talks  about leadership and learning.  While not specifically related to the newspaper industry, it is very applicable.   Mike Myatt, of n2growth.com states that good CEOs (or publishers) must commit themselves to continuous learning.   He goes on to criticize leaders who are too busy, too important or already  too knowledgeable to commit  themselves to a pattern of continuous learning.

“Put simply, if you’re not learning you have no business leading.” —   The Learning CEO http://bit.ly/d965h4

The business world is becoming very complex and that is particularly true for the newspaper industry.  The newspaper industry is emerging from a 15 years of denial:  Classified revenues will bounce back…  Subscribers are down, but readership is up… that Internet will never last… we are  journalists – not like those bloggers.   The first article speaks to the current reality.  The second article suggest a way forward.  The newspaper will never return to the way things once were.  The time for denials is over,  but, for the publishers and employees who to learn the rules of  the new information reality and adapt to them, the glory days for newspapers can return.

Newspapers can be the voices for their communities and they can remain profitable.   But, newspaper leaders must learn how to run their businesses in a world of bloggers, citizen journalists, connected (elsewhere) communities, and the perception of a lot of  people that newspapers are dying dinosaurs.   Journalists will still create content.  But,  a modern journalist is going to need to reach out to vast new sources of community content,  embrace them, and be the filters of that enormous volume of content for their audience(s).  Know your audience and be part of their conversations.   Deliver the news, information, and commentary that they want as they are talking about it.  Satisfy your audience and advertisers will want to pay to be along side your content.  It’s a big commitment, but that is only part of the equation.

Newspaper audiences are becoming more tech savvy, more connected, and more interconnected.  The notion of a printed newspaper is becoming nostalgic to many.   It is now up to publishers and their staff to learn how to give modern audiences what they need and want.  Audiences want content whenever and wherever they are.  They are looking for content in many places and on many devices.  They are building networks amongst friends, friends of friends, families, co-workers, associates, and even strangers. The newspapers audiences are now content creators and content distributors.  They are no longer passive content consumers.  Newspapers need to learn how to become trusted members of the communities of  their tech savvy audiences.

First thing for publishers to learn is… there is much to learn.

Compelling content is key in print or online

I read 2 stories  today that I think illustrate an important lesson for newspapers to remember:

  1. Advertising Age: “AOL to Hire ‘Hundreds’ of Journalists, Reorganize Content Division” ( http://mtn.bz/cnrfTY)
  2. Mashable:  Google News and Why Human Editors Still Matter (http://bit.ly/b8sF0S )

In the first case, AOL has discovered that they can monetize content they create and control far better than content from outside their organization.  To that end, they are investing in new people to create content that people will read. With an audience,  AOL believes that advertisers will buy their sites.

“We have insights into our audience, and can produce content they want, which leads to engagement, which leads to what advertisers want,” said Jeff Levick, president of global advertising at AOL.

In the second case, Google has started an experiment to use human editors from select partners to select stories for their readers.  Previously, Google aggressively worked on “magical” algorithms to sort through the tidal wave of content coming from web-sites, media, twitter, blogs, and hundreds of other sources to identify what you, the reader, want.  Dozens of tools exist on the net to help filter the news feeds with varying degrees of success.  To quote the article”

Although social media and other web tools have enabled users to personalize their news streams, the ubiquity of content has created an echo chamber that some readers are trying to parse through to find not only what they want to know, but the news they “need” to know as well. This is where human “editors” and curators play a crucial role in helping readers filter through the noise.

For years, newspaper did a great job playing the role of “filter” in their communities.  As the Internet exploded, this job became more difficult.  With increased content choices,  people moved online to get their news and information and away from newspapers.  With shrinking circulations and ad dollars, newspapers laid off employees (many journalists) to reduce costs and invested in more “canned” nationalized content that is  no longer unique.  As newspapers become irrelevant, the web is looking to fill the primary role that newspapers once filled.

On one hand, newspapers should be investing in unique compelling content that their “community” wants.  On the other hand, they should invest in resources to  filter the content coming from blogs, twitter, and web-sites and package the best and most relevant content for their communities.  (This is probably another blog posting in itself.)  Suffice it to say, if newspapers ever serious want to consider paywalls (another post at some point) or increased advertising CPMs (yet another likely post), they will  only succeed with unique and compelling content.

That’s my thought…What’s yours?

Smartest man in the World has the solution to the problem of Newspapers!

Saul Colt, in his blog today, has done it!  He has the solved the problem of newspapers.  And the answer if 3D!  Hmmm… I’m having a “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” flashback. Wasn’t the answer  42, and not 3D… anyways…

Saul Colt’s Blog, the “Smartest Man in the World” wrote today in his blog that newspapers need to focus on 3D or 3 Discussions.  His posting is  http://saulcolt.blogspot.com/2010/06/solution-to-problems-of-newspapers-is.html .  The gist of his solution is that newspapers need to focus on balanced reporting.  As long as they are one-sided in their reporting, newspapers ” as a whole will not fulfill the unspoken promise of reporting a story.”  Certainly, most of the newspaper journalists I know are trying to write balanced stories.  However, I expect that many newspapers, tabloids and magazines are, in fact, not interested in the slightest in balanced reporting.  I imagine National Enquirer, Us, or the Globe would be strangely dull and boring, and worse, riddled with the truth.  While they might  “fulfill the unspoken truth”, they would likely lose their core readership or be out of business in no time flat.

As to being  the solution to the problem of Newspapers, it likely wouldn’t slow the slide in circulation, end the bleeding of classified revenues, balance the discrepancy between print and online ad revenues, reverse the trends of lower ROP ad  revenues, won’t make the Internet go away, or get back all of the  journalists who have lost their jobs to industry down-sizing over the past 15 years. But, it is the ideal that they teach in Journalism school, and maybe for those papers that have lost their way, it is a good place to begin. For most newspapers, it is probably a much more complex and varied set of solutions.

Huh? What do you think?