How Newspapers can become relevant in a Web 2.0 world

The prognosis is not good for newspapers, when in fact, they should be kicking butt, but, these mass creators of content are totally clueless. From Media Week is an analysis of what’s happening to the newspaper industry:

Shrinking newsrooms. Falling operating margins. Double-digit declines in ad revenue. American newspapers today are awash in ink—but the ink is red. Soaring newsprint prices and stalled ad business have, in fact, led analysts to call this year the worst for newspapers since the Great Depression.

A recent Pew Research Center survey illuminated the sorry situation. More than half of 259 papers polled reported cutting full-time newsroom staff and the news hole over the past three years. Large dailies have been hit hardest, with waves of layoffs sweeping through the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post, the Tribune and McClatchy companies, and others.

Buyers Want Newspapers to Reinvent Model

And if you read the whole Media Week Wake for the industry, you’ll be even farther down the wrong road than the papers are as they toodle off to meet their maker. Newspapers should be thriving right now- because they are content creators- and content creators are the mac daddy of the digital world. The problems extend way beyond their model of delivery-  they’d do well to go read Nicholas Negroponte’s excellent, 1996 book “Being Digital” to get a clue.

Usually, as an industry is in decline, the best version of the product appears. This hasn’t been happening in newspapers due to fundamental flaws in the idea of separation of editorial content and the business side.

Look at Google to get a clue. 70% of users ignore the sponsored ads- probably like 70% of newspaper ads get ignored too. The difference between the two- is Google understands it’s brought to you by those advertisers and does everything possible to make their ads relevant to the content on the page.

Take that model and look at your delivery of content and ads in any newspaper. No connection whatsoever.

Instead of learning about their readers, newspaper editors have for years thought it was their job to teach us about the world. That kind of arrogance today just doesn’t cut it. There has to be a quidpro-quo in the exchange of news and ideas. We’re not talking TO our audience, we’re talking with them.

Tell that to editorial boards around the country.

Next- we’re living in a world of information junkies. People are in constant contact via computer, pda, phone etc. How any newspaper can live on a “Daily” news cycle is nuts. The actual paper they print on is their biggest mistake. Think about it. A Kindle is $359, the cost of a years subscription to a paper- highly subsidized by advertisers who aren’t getting any feedback at all-is around $200- instead of delivering a one directional piece of daily garbage to the door- doesn’t it make more sense to give them a Kindle with a 2 year commitment? And, then charge advertisers via pay per click?

Instead of increasing content, most are shrinking their news hole. That’s the last thing Google would do- shrink the number of responses it gives. Sure, no one looks to see who comes last out of the 1,287,000 results, but, the reality is- people want more content, they want video, photos, charts, links to relevant information to explore and verify if you are indeed giving them “all the news that’s fit to print” (or in this case “distribute”). The value is in knowing your customers better by watching what they read, what they click on- and then giving advertisers access to the exact customer they are looking for.

No advertiser needs a million impressions of anything. They need buyers. This is where newspapers haven’t made any advancement at all. Even the New York Times who seems to be getting it- still serves me with the same ad for a Westin hotel at the bottom of my iPhone reader- over and over- even though I don’t often stay in hotels- and there isn’t a Westin anywhere near me. Sorry- NYT, you are missing your role in selling the ad right.

Even when Newspapers do build in “Web 2.0” features- few give the consumers who comment any “Respect” back. I’ve not seen a newspaper that provides a subscribe to comments feature via e-mail- which I believe can be easier than adding a feed. Few allow you to build back links to your site- a reason the most savvy bloggers leave comments. And lastly- they insist on limits of 3000 characters- or some other arbitrary “control freak” tendency. Sorry- but space on a hard drive shouldn’t be an issue - you want the people on your site, writing away- for as long as possible.

Some people don’t mind when the Cheesecake Factory hands you a menu that’s full of ads, but any kind of Pop-up, drop down, walk-over or auto-play ad on your site is intrusive and offensive. Newspapers may be desperate for ad revenue, but getting in my way of ease of use doesn’t make me like an advertiser more. It also doesn’t help if it’s not relevant (see above). Car dealers who are used to screaming in their TV ads seem to love intruding on my web reading: here is a hint: STOP.

And if you can’t give up on your multi-million dollar printing press dinosaurs, at least, think about this: design matters. The great copywriter Howard Luck Gossage said “people don’t read ads, they read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad”- so how come I can look at beautiful magazines all day long, and most newspapers still look like they were designed either for a LinoType or a comic book? Where is the grace of great typography which we can do faster, better than before- where are the beautiful photos that we can gather 10 frames per second without having to wait for developer and prints? The paper is at the end of it’s existance as a paper- make it great.

Last but not least: CONTENT RULES. While I can get content of the world straight from the horses mouth in any language on any continent at this point- why are you still giving me a menu based on what you think is relevant instead of what I like and need. No, I’m not talking about custom portals- but, figure out how to be intelligent in suggesting other similar content. Give me the links to the sources you used in your research, build a relationship between the news editor and the news reader. It may get dangerous with the best editors building their own following- but, hey, at least they’ll still have jobs, unlike the rest of you if you continue on the path that you are on.


There is more, but this is to whet your whistle. We’d be happy to teach your newsroom on how to survive in a web 2.0 world. That’s what we do at The Next Wave, marketing • innovation.