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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?