The issue that many newspapers cannot comprehend is that they are still living in a world that suited them for than 100 years. Unfortunately, the world has moved on, and newspapers need to catch up, or die.
The problem lies in the newspaper’s role in the dissemination of news to the reader. Up until now, newspapers have enjoyed the role of “gatekeeper,” that is, they reviewed, analyzed and sifted news and delivered it to readers in a nice, tidy product. This is the world I’ll call “Media 1.0”
That’s a lot of power in the hands of a few people. And it was the reason guys like William Hurst, Robert McCormick and the Chandler family become so powerful. Although in theory the press is “fair and impartial,” many used that power to tell the people what they (the media) wanted them to hear. And the people were satisfied with that.
Being a gatekeeper is a powerful role. But, unfortunately, the Internet has broken down the fence, and like a levee breach, information is flowing around the gate and into the hands of readers.
Despite the talk of adapting, many newspapers still hold dear to the idea that they are the harbinger of news and information. But if people don’t like what’s coming through the gate — or don’t see what they want coming through the gate — they can wander over the the breach in the fence created by the likes of Google, YouTube, Facebook, or Flickr, and find what they want over there. And as that happens, advertisers looking for your readers are eventually going to see them over by the breach as well, and send their money over there.
In order to survive, the gatekeeper will need to adapt his job — more like a traffic cop. In the “Media 2.0” world, newspapers will need to embrace the technologies now available … and those coming down the line … and assists readers in sifting and delivering the news they need.
To do this, newspapers must focus its resources most on what’s it’s best at…in most cases, that is local news … and that effort must convince readers that they are the place to go to find out what is happening in the community. At the core, newspapers must be the facilitator and moderator of opinion and discussion in the community. This means being a participant, instead of a lecturer, in the public soapbox. Those papers that own the local forums will eventually own the local news market as well.
In areas that they are weakest, newspapers will be best served becoming a “Google” type aggregator, only much more focused (meaning not giving readers 15 versions of the same AP story that appears on dozens of news web sites). And it will mean relying on sources that they wouldn’t dream of relying on in the past. For example, a local news source could provide readers links to the BBC or CNN to get information on the Myanmar cyclone tragedy. Or how about Huffington Post or Slate for analysis on the presidential election? Or … and I know this is blasphemy … another local newspaper for a major news story just outside your coverage area? In other word, in “Media 2.0” our perceived enemies can help us.
Unheard of? Just look at Triblocal, a suburban community news project run by the Chicago Tribune. Triblocal routinely links readers to stories in competing newspapers, and it seems apparent it hasn’t hurt the site’s readership.
I see a revenue potential for “premium” news services that would personalize reader’s news preferences beyond general “news” and “business.” But to do so, it’ll mean providing information that the news source cannot provide.
So, to get to Media 2.0, newspapers must realize:
1. You are no longer a gatekeeper, and the longer you try to control the flow of information, the more readers you will lose as they go elsewhere for what they want.
2. The battle for local domination will be on the platform of local opinion. There, you will be the moderator, not the professor. When readers look to you as the place to go for opinion, they will transfer that trust to your local news.
3. You will need to rely on your enemies to provide readers with a full palate of information for readers. And, as a result, readers may be willing to pay a premium if you can give them exactly what they want.