My Ideal News, uh, Thingy

I’m not affiliated with and don’t have any knowledge of the newspaper business. You could make the case that this doesn’t make my opinion worth much, but if you consider the performance over the last few years of people who do know the business, maybe doing something different warrants some consideration.

Jack Lail has been posting recently about possible new ways to calculate compensation for journalists, and in a post today hit on something:

At my newspaper, we have been distributing daily top 10 lists of articles based on page views to the entire newsroom for a year or more. The lists are not used for compensation and do seem to provide instant market insights about what readers found interesting.

The way I see it, newspapers, for now, are positioned to provide three things that are at a high premium and that most blogs/bloggers can’t deliver. I think most would be wise to capitalize on these by shifting the state of mind from being a newspaper to becoming a news organization/outlet/center:

Excellent writing
Not just good writing. For now, newspapers have a large market share of excellent writers. That’s a part of the market I’d want to keep. Let the good writers go if you have to, but keep the excellent writers around. That means paying them well. If you don’t, you will eventually lose the excellent writers to their own endeavors, and you’ll be stuck with nothing but good writers. Good writing is nice, but it doesn’t make you much more special that the thousands of independent blogs that feature above average writers.

Investigative journalism
The time, resources, and energy it takes to dig (and dig, and dig) for a story set newspapers and real journalists apart from everyone else. Give us more stories that take time to develop. Give us stories that, in short, no one else can. In most cases, that would mean increased concentration on local news, and pulling back on stories happening elsewhere. And sports? Please. The account of a football game that was attended by 100,000 people, viewed by millions, and opined about (real time) on countless message boards and blogs has little value the day after the event. Does it sell copies? I’m sure of it. Does it sell as many copies as it did 10 years ago? I’d guess probably not, per capita. And if you’re now going to count web clicks instead of copies, newspaper web sites definitely don’t have the market share that the print version of the paper had 10 years ago. It doesn’t seem like a good place for resources long term. It may be time to start scaling back or redirecting resources.

Being community hubs
Newspapers have a huge asset that takes years to create–name recognition in their local markets. It makes sense to capitalize on that by being first to that market with resources that connect the community. Instead of viewing local bloggers as competitors and hacks, find a way to leverage them as a way to drive traffic. Become the place that the community uses to find local blogs. The bad news? It’s may already be too late. In my local market, the News Sentinel caught on remarkably early, and even goes so far as to feature bloggers on the front page of their web site on the weekends and has built a community aggregator. In other markets, it has taken a while, and links to other sites and blogs still aren’t featured or easy to find. As a result, other organizations have stepped up and are trying to fill the void left by what should have been the logical market owner.

It is great to see some newspapers are catching on and are willing to try something new or go in a different direction. At the same time, it’s frustrating to see the industry as a whole belly aching about its problems. Face the facts–not only are the rules of the game changing rapidly, but the game itself is evolving.

I mean, this isn’t the record industry. You guys may actually have to change.

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Comments

Excellent suggestions! The only thing I would add is that the content needs to be unique. You addressed that in the “Investigative Journalism” part, but it can’t be over emphasized. If you have already seen it on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, nytimes.com, washingtonpost.com, you probably don’t need our very same AP version of it.

That’s exactly what I was driving at. I’m a perfect example of a “non-excellent” writer. 🙂

I would think the more local the better. For instance, the News Sentinel probably can’t cover Sevier County nearly as well as The Mountain Press can, even though TMP is a much smaller operation.

What a great, outside thinking post! I couldn’t agree more. I would like to echo the News Sentinel remark you made about their progress to change. I believe the Sentinel is aligning themselves strategically for the future and for that, Knoxville and the surrounding areas will get to reap the benefits.

This is dead on:

“Instead of viewing local bloggers as competitors and hacks, find a way to leverage them as a way to drive traffic. Become the place that the community uses to find local blogs.”

I quit my newspaper job and I am building a company around it at http://www.blognetnews.com . Jack Lail was the first daily newspaper guy to jump on what we offered with the Knoxville Blog Network.

The folks behind NashvilleisTalking.com really deserve a lot of credit. They were the first to do it really well and they started years and years ago. An organization that can jump that far ahead of the pack is incredibly rare.

[…] My Ideal News, uh, Thingy It is great to see some newspapers are catching on and are willing to try something new or go in a different direction. At the same time, it’s frustrating to see the industry as a whole belly aching about its problems. Face the facts–not only are the rules of the game changing rapidly, but the game itself is evolving. […]

The way I see it, newspapers, for now, are positioned to provide three things that are at a high premium and that most blogs/bloggers can’t deliver. I think most would be wise to capitalize on these by shifting the state of mind from being a newspaper to becoming a news organization/outlet/center

Years ago, I read an article about the importance of knowing what your business really is. The article talked about the “railroad men” and their failure to respond to changes in the marketplace. Had they realized that they were really in the transportation business (of which the railroads were only a part) instead of concentrating on being “railroad men”, they probably would’ve been better able to respond to the changes.

Your point – and it’s the correct one – is that people working for newspapers shouldn’t think of themselves as “newspaper men” (or women). Instead, they should concentrate on being information providers regardless of the media used to convey that information. If they can do that (and deliver quality products instead of the partisan bilge they so often peddle), then they’ll be better positioned to respond to changes such as what Craig’s List is doing to their classified advertising sales.

[…] you want to know the three things, look here. Tags: […]

[…] not really much more than folks with an opinion and enough time to build a following.  ItFrom.us gets it, and posts an excellent article about the things that newpapers can do that […]

Most people don’t have the patience to wait to read about something in the newspaper hours after they first heard about the event. Further, more and more of the population owns and are comfortable with computers and portable devices, and can stay in touch as events unfolds. Newspapers are going to have to evolve toward electronic venues and websites, and provide more bang for the buck. For those of us comfortable with online news, and who hate ads, spyware, cookies and pop-ups, it seems the best way to make money online might be to form fee-based consortiums of news outlets, say $10.00 per month for all of the news in 100+ papers (NYT, WaPo, AJC, Boston Hearld, Ch. Tribune, etc. down to regional markets such as Knoxville, Seattle, Denver and so forth). One log-in, one password, and the reader is in – no ads, no pop-ups, full archives, video / YouTube feeds, audio, podcasts, full transcripts of speechs, and more. Don’t give it away.
Other than that, I agrre.

“Excellent writing
Not just good writing. For now, newspapers have a large market share of excellent writers.”

Heh. You obviously haven’t read my local rag:
http://www.delawareonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/frontpage
Their staff writers represent the antithesis of excellent writing…

Wow! Thanks for all of the links and comments guys!

Larry J, you’re dead on. Just like the music industry guys need to stop thinking about CD sales and start thinking about how they can monetize entertainment.

Jim, I really like your idea of paying a single fee and getting several paper-sites ad free. The key to that, I think, is retaining the EXCELLENT writing.

Clancy, so you’re saying they have a “tremendous opportunity” to exceed your expectations, right? 🙂

[…] I’m not affiliated with and don’t have any knowledge of the newspaper business.  You could make the case that this doesn’t make my opinion worth much, but if you consider the performance over the last few years of people who do know the business, maybe doing something different warrants some consideration. […]

Don’t forget delivery!

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