2006 resolutions for newspaper dinosaurs

Posted on January 1, 2006 
Filed Under Uncategorized

Online media purveyor Steve Outing sets out some resolutions that newspapers need to consider:

1. “I will discuss more, talk less.”

Outing: What’s the Internet all about? Is it just another publishing medium for top-down content? Of course not, and 2005 made that abundantly clear. A real opportunity in 2006 will be in supporting the global conversation that is the Internet. It’s about allowing groups of people with shared interests to find each other, gab, and play and work with each other.

Comment: In other words the web is a dialogue not monologue. Or haven’t you figured that out already? Outing was spot-on in pointing out how Murdoch bought MySpace.com for US$580m to get in on the conversation of 40 million users. Less ambitious papers can look into sites like Bakotopia and Northwest Voice

I must add Lawrence Journal’s edgy Lawrence.com.

Also view: Lessons of Lawrence.

2. “I will dare to wiki.”

Outing: Avoid turning to wikis for topics like politics; focus on content that is factual and mostly without competing factions who will war with each other over the content, and then you may have something good. Create a local trails database and allow citizens to post descriptions, photos, maps, and their reviews. You’ve got yourself a living reference Web site to serve your community. Create a wiki-based site that profiles all schools in your coverage area. Encourage parents, teachers and students to participate.

3. “I will be more interactive.”

Comment: A terribly overused word. But it is still surprising how many newspapers do not have any form of easy way to post feedback.

4. “I will seek out ‘citizen advertisers.’

Outing: The core of newspaper advertising is the sales representative, whether it be selling display ads or recruiting and taking calls for classifieds. But as Google so aptly demonstrates, the real future is in automating the advertising marketplace.

Comment: Yes, small businesses find it too costly to advertise in newspapers with no guarantee of returns. But most such businesses thrive on relationships and word-of-mouth. Those that have websites, don’t need the news site. They only need to find creative ways to get into newspaper’s website for free. Those that aren’t computer savvy, will never try this. I see them bypassing online media altogether in favour of text-messaging.

5. “I will learn to turn free classifieds into money.”

Outing: I think that 2006 will be the year when we begin to see a wholesale change begin in the newspaper classifieds business. The big threats to the traditional classifieds model are lined up to give classified managers some sleepless nights. Craigslist is becoming a significant threat in more metro markets, obliterating revenues that newspapers used to take in from people paying for ads. Google has launched a service called Base that anyone can use to sell merchandise, a car, a house, or post a job opening. And Microsoft in 2006 will debut its free-classifieds service (thought by analysts to be a counter to Craigslist). In 2005 we saw the beginning of the newspaper industry’s reaction: Knight Ridder lifted fees for placing ads in its online classifieds for merchandise-category goods in 22 of its 27 markets. The San Diego Union-Tribune started offering free three-line ads online and in the print edition for goods valued at under $5,000. We’ll see more of this within the newspaper industry in 2006.

Comment: Newspapers will probably lead the way in automating classifieds for sophisticated users. Making money from free classifieds? It will never catch on.

6. “I will publish where the young people are.”

Outing: Young people aren’t picking up the habit of print readership, because they’re too distracted by the Internet, cell phones, Playstations and whatnot. So let’s resolve to reach them where they are: on the Web, on instant messenger services, on cell phones, on Playstation consoles, etc.

News organizations have been grappling with the concept of convergence for many years. But in 2005, a clear trend emerged: Some newspaper companies have begun to incorporate online and print operations into one, breaking down the walls that have existed between print (old) and online (new) for the last decade-plus.

The New York Times provided the classic example. Its newsroom initiative introduced in 2005 went far toward the vision of the Times becoming a news company that publishes cross-platform; its reporters work with the goal in mind of feeding multiple channels, where everyone works on it all. Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. described the newsroom initiative in a speech last October: “This eliminates the distinction between newspaper and Web journalists and thereby creates a new environment that integrates Times tradition with the most innovative online practices.”

Comments: Good point. Reaching the young is an imperative. Cellphones are the key.

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