Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, April 8, 2005

Future Strategy For Online Newspapers Salvation: Theme-up, Loose Control, Redefine Mission

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For the last 10 years, the single most important problem facing nearly every newspaper out there is an unstoppable decrease in circulation.

Newspapers have desperately tried to change their physical look and feel, by falling prey to the "trendy" tabloid physical format - but for a majority of them, the change hasn't made a difference.

Photo credit: Kathy MacCallum

Attacking the issue form another angle many have gone the way of the metro-papers - tiny physical formats, very short articles, freely distributed in highly populated areas such as public transportation. Yeah, these papers do enjoy soaring circulation - and there is no end to the new variations appearing in this direction.

But nonetheless the efforts, experimentations and many changes, most newspapers have failed to understand that the change needed the most is not at all about the visual format or the look and feel adopted: it is all about content!

And guess who is the latest entry in the world of online news, that has a whole new focus and spin on content, its focus, how it is written and who writes it?

Yes, blogs are the new emerging content carriers, and the ones that have rapidly become sources of news and information for mainstream newspapers as well!

While newspapers have been declining steadily, the numbers of readers and writers of blogs have exploded!

Because of blog growing popularity and the fact that they cost practically nothing to maintain, the newspapers have recently tried to absorb blogs in their online editions.

But this, too - is a fad.

Newspapers don't know why blogs work, they just see that they do - and then they literally buy bloggers or start their own.

But there's still no turn-around of the developement.

I'll tell You a little secret though: they're on to something, but they're doing it the wrong way!

A blog is characterized by a number of things:

1: Themed - it covers a specific subject and/or it has a clearly identifiable viewpoint - this gives it a dedicated audience of similar interests.

2: Partial - it's honestly subjective and even proud of it - this gives it respect since we all know that complete objectivity, such as the one newspapers claim, is nothing but a flashy slogan.

3: Flexible - by leveraging the Internet as its main carrier, it can be searched, archived, instantly updated, it links to what others say about it, it allows references from others to it and from it to other related resources, and it is incredibly open in nature.

4: Inexpensive - low-cost, ready-made blogging tools are free, very low-cost and easy to use.

But these characteristics are all the OPPOSITE of what newspapers are!

1: Omnibus - tries to be everything for everyone, to cover all subjects, to be too much without excelling at nothing. No key focus and thus no strong loyal audience.

2: Objective - claims to report and detail stories and issues "as they are" without any conditioning or partiality dictated by external factors. Though this may appear to be only an attitude of traditional media most people have understood that such objectivity is just not technically possible. (the bloggers have made sure of this!)

3: Rigid - newspapers are out once a day, online registration or subscription is often required to access and search contents in depth, commenting is rarely available and often highly censored.

4: Expensive - very expensive to start and run.

Isn't this is the typical profile of the online paper-newspaper?

So far, most online editions have been merely a "re-mediation" of these "old" traditional newspapers. The content is the often the same and written in the same way that it is written for the printed edition. Outside of a few minor differences these online editions are essentially the same newspaper product in another package.

Furthermore, newspapers are threatened on two more fronts, which have previously been their very trademark and strengths:

1: Watch dog - the traditional press was the one to hunt down the crooked politicians, being the "watchdog" of society. But a number of recent scandals have shown that the media is sometimes too lazy to act as a watchdog, perhaps even taking part in some dirty business themselves - and in turn been the traditional press has been taken down by bloggers themselves holding it accountable for every ambiguity and non-transparent action. The watch dog has gotten a watch dog!

2: Authority - the word of the mainstream media is no longer accepted at face value, bloggers have shown new angles to existing stories or even launched new stories themselves. And if they don't like the published stories, they will do everything in their power to affect them. Online editions where reporters didn't do their job as they should have, have resulted in journalists getting bombarded with emails complaining about such issues and journalists geeting very frustrated because of this.

And if you think well about this, here we have in front of us a fact, that in and by itself should be enough to shake the media-corporations like an earthquake: There is nothing a newspaper can do that a blog can't - or even be better at it!

The basic difference between the two is individuality: themed-blogs versus omnibus newspapers.

And if you pay enough attention, you will notice that not only are many of these newspapers covering a wide range of topics as they used to do, therefore all competing for the same market, but, as they all attempt to shift to another format - the same even - and all go online, they STILL end up with the same product and fighting for the same market!

This is why the key to success for newspapers is to follow the key to blogs success: strong, identifiable, true individuality.

Here's what they need to do:

1: Theme up! Cover a specific topic, go narrow and deep instead of wide and shallow - thus getting a dedicated subscriptionbase and avoiding fighting eachother for marketshares.

2: Loose control! Let readers contribute more, this way the value of the product is increased at no extra cost. The readers also feel stronger committed and loyal to your product when they have a share in it.

3: Redefine the mission! Become knowledge builders instead of news gatherers. The latter is so simple and cheap to produce anyway that it can be done from India, and a more valuable product to the citizens of today's complex society would be interpretation and evaluation of the world through a thematic lense!

Pressure from professional blogs and their rapid adoption as sources of key information forces newspapers to rethink their evolution strategies, and to give in form in favour of deep editorial and content changes.

Themed, vertical, topic-specific and highly localized online news papers are what you will see in the near future, and their ability to leverage and facilitate reader contribution and support will be a key competitive factor in determining the successful ones from the rest.

Re-written by Mikkel Larsen for Robin Good.

original title:
Blogs are both the death sentence and salvation of newspapers
Mikkel Larsen

adapted version of:
New kid on the blog, directly accessible on Mikkel Larsen blog.

Mikkel Larsen -
Reference: Enough! [ Read more ]
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posted by Robin Good on Friday, April 8 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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