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

Some Ideas On Reinventing Newspapers

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 17, 2009

Newspapers would like to be paid for their online content because they can't survive on online advertising alone.

Pay-for-news might work but only if newspapers have original content, "you can only read it here." That's what I try to do with SVW, I try to have original interviews, scoops, original angles -- stories that you can only read here.

But a lot of newspapers don't have much original content. They use a lot of wire copy or simply rewrite the wire copy; they publish news stories that look very much the same as other news stories; there is little competition to get scoops.

If a newspaper can generate a lot of "you can only read it here" content then there is a halfway decent chance that it can find enough people to pay for it. And there is a lot of potentially original content to be had by focusing on hyper-local coverage.

But a lot of newspapers have journalists that sit at a desk all day long and rarely interact with their local communities.

Some newspapers have recently come up with the concept of MoJos -- mobile journalists equipped with notebooks, cell phone modems, and cameras. Isn't that what journalists used to do, go out into their communities and hunt down stories, hangout in bars, cafes, look for original stories, scoops?

Newspapers should own their local stories. For example, San Jose Mercury or the San Francisco Chronicle should "own" Silicon Valley stories. They should be breaking all the best Google stories, Oracle, Apple, etc. That would be something people would pay for.

Here are some ideas on how newspapers could survive and become viable businesses:

- Focus on original content, do not rewrite wire stories or press releases--people are more likely pay for content they can't get anywhere else.

- 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.

- 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.

- Be a regular and visible part of your local communities by getting out of the office and into those communities.

- 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.

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

- Become involved in local events, organize conferences. There is a ton of money in conferences.

- Don't let advertising networks sell your advertising. They take a huge cut for serving ads and you lose the customer connection. Newspapers should always own their customer relationship.

- 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.

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

- Online readers that want to pay, have no way of paying for the the news except by buying a newspaper subscription! PBS does quite well with membership packages that include discounts from local businesses, while keeping broadcasts freely available. That's a model that could be offered by newspapers.

- 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.

- 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.

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

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

- And there are lots of other ideas...

There are many people coming up with great suggestions to help newspapers survive. There is probably no other industry that has so many people willing and eager to help out with ideas. For example: - How to mend what isn't really broken! - Jan Simmonds

Newspapers have a unique opportunity to reinvent themselves. In some cases it means rediscovering what they used to do, and what they used to know: original content sells. You can only read it here.

The other opportunity is to innovate and create new forms of media that have never ever been created. There is a tremendous amount of innovation happening in media.

I've said it many times: Silicon Valley has become a Media Valley. Google publishes pages of content with advertising. So does Yahoo, Ebay, and many others. Facebook is a media company, and so are thousands of startups in the "Web 2.0" space.

Why aren't newspapers part of this innovative media industry?

- - -

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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