Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

25 ideas: Creating An Open-Source Business Model For Newspapers

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 18, 2009

(Building from yesterday's post...)

I'm just one of many people coming up with business ideas for saving newspapers. There are a lot of posts being published on this subject.

Someone should collect all the advice because it's turning into some kind of open source business model. And the beauty of this approach is that only a few newspapers need to have the courage to try new ideas--if any one of them succeeds then the rest can piggyback. They win and we win.

Here are my 25 ideas on how newspapers might be able to survive and become innovative media businesses:

1: Focus on original content, do not rewrite wire stories or press releases. If newspapers start charging for content people are more likely pay for content they can't get anywhere else.

2: Focus on hyper-local coverage, newspapers should "own" their regional beat because they have the best contacts and the best understanding of local companies and issues. For example, SF Chronicle or the San Jose Mercury should be breaking all the top Apple or Google stories.

3: Don't run foreign bureaus unless you are the New York Times or the like, or are publishing a unique perspective relevant to your community.

4: Be a regular and visible part of your local communities by making sure journalists get out of the office.

5: Become an active teacher of media literacy and also media production in your local communities. Help teach citizen journalists how to be great journalists, editors, photographers, videographers, etc. Teach how to be effective and ethical.

6: Celebrate the best citizen journalists/bloggers in your communities, publish them on your platform.

7: Become involved in local events, organize conferences. There is a lot of money in conferences. The newspaper becomes a vehicle for drawing people to the conferences.

8: Don't let advertising networks sell your advertising. They take a huge cut for serving ads and you lose the customer connection. I often see newspapers running Google AdSense on their front page and at the bottom of the ads there is the message: "If you'd like to advertise on this site click here." That click takes prospective customers to Google and not to the newspaper. Newspapers should always own their customer relationship.

9: Develop a hybrid content strategy for search engines and news aggregators that takes advantage of the distribution power of the Internet without giving away all the content.

10: Adopt a culture of a "news organization" rather than a "newspaper." Paper or electron, it shouldn't matter how the news is delivered.

11: Offer some way for readers to pay. Every newspaper has a group of fiercely loyal readers, some more than others, but there is no way for them to pay if they want to read their newspaper online. Many people like the positive ecological aspect of reading online and are proud they are saving resources--and many would be willing to pay for this vastly improved product yet the newspapers don't offer any way to collect this easy revenue. One way might be witha PBS-style volunteer membership package? With discounts among local businesses.

12: Become the host for all important discussions about local issues and politics. Moderate the discussions to ensure civil discourse. Nothing kills discussions faster than offensive comments made by anonymous people.

13: Newspaper journalists need new publishing skills in video, audio, images, and should have some basic knowledge of HTML and CSS. Being able to type is not enough.

14: Help raise money for schools and other essential local services. Show you are part of the community.

15: Create a safe online experience, free from phishing, malware, and adverts for scam services.

16: Create a search site to search local resources and businesses.

17: Create a news aggregation site that provides your readers with access to news and other articles available elsewhere.

18: Each newspaper section should provide a search engine specific to its topic and region: Business: Company information and financial services. Home: Search for builders, furniture, decorators. Food: Search for recipes, local restaurants, etc.

19: Offer free classified adverts online and also have a free section in print. You can charge for a premium listing that offers better visibility.

20: Create informational pages to help people in your communities with common tasks such as how to get a business license. Where to find your car if it has been towed. Information for people that have recently moved into the area. In different languages. Have your web people create pages that are mashups of available online data but presented in a more accessible form, such as mapping police reports onto regional maps. School information, etc.

21: Hire additional salespeople. It is is a different sales environment today and it requires a fresh approach. Salespeople used to selling full page or half-page print ads are not the going to be able to transition easily.

22: Host web sites for important community groups in your region for free. You can run advertising on them and the groups will benefit from having an easy way to publish online.

23: Create a way of allowing readers to share in the ownership of the newspaper, or somehow give them a role in what the newspaper should be doing to become more useful to its community.

24: Create a directory of local businesses with space for user comments. Offer premium listings for a fee that also shows the business is supporting the newspaper, with a sticker. Yellow pages is a huge local business that the newspapers could easily own.

25: What are your ideas for helping newspapers transition into the online world?

- - -

Please see:

- Why Pay-For-News Won't Work: The First Mover Disadvantage

- "Google Devalues Everything It Touches" - Wall Street Journal Chief

- Bye-Bye Free News - Murdoch Joins The Pay Debate

- Saturday Post: The Inevitable Rise Of Cockroach Media . . .

- Pandora's Box 1981: The Online Newspaper Experiment

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