A tale of two directions in news

With apologies to Dickens, it is the worst of times, it is the best of times for newspapers.

In the worst of times, here is a list of 10 newspapers that experts predict could close or go all digital by the end of the year. It’s a formidable list with some great journalistic institutions on it: The Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer. All are great newspapers serving major metropolitan regions, and it would be a shame to hear the bell toll for them just as it did for the Rocky Mountain News just last month.

Many of these nameplates are the smaller paper in two-paper markets. Many argue that the loss of these newspapers would silence a voice that spoke in difference to the other paper in the market. That may have held true in the press baron days, but with virtually all major newspapers owned by corporate interests, that is no longer the case. Even the Chicago Tribune broke it’s hard-lined Republican stand last year. So what we may be witnessing is more of a corporate Darwinism in these big markets.

But what’s important to note is that while the passing of a nameplate like the Rocky is tragic, is it just as tragic if these nameplates were to lose the print product and go all-digital?

Certainly not! It is not a death, but a metamorphosis. As long as the journalistic integrity and quality of content remains, these new all-digital news sites will not only survive, but hold a much better chance of building new audiences and, following traditional revenue theory, advertisers who believe more eyes on the site will translate into more traffic. Plus you don’t have the overhead costs of the presses, ink, paper, trucks, etc.

I hope all 10 follow the all-digital route. Yes, it will be sad if a newspaper ceases to print, but its voice will live on in newer, more dynamic fashions. And as readers, we will follow.

The best of times: Here’s a interesting piece of online experiments that could help newspaper companies realize some cash. I’ve been most impressed with the work being done at the Bakersfield Californian since the days of their Northwest Voice community journalism project. The Baktopia project mentioned in the article aims at getting and developing new readers. By building the brand and links, it’ll be interesting to see if Bakersfield can keep these readers as they mature and look for new news and information products (much in the way automakers used to try to build loyalty by offering entry-level, mid-priced and luxury models to fit the needs of people as they enter new phases of their lives.)

The irony in this article is that many of the innovative experiments are being done by smaller, independent papers. Unfortunately, the bigger papers — including some of the 10 on the above list — seem too busy waiting for someone else to find the magic potion that will make them profitable again.

And that’s why I see small, local newspapers as the ones with the greatest chance for survival through this evolution.

* Nice to see Jerry Roberts at the Santa Barbara Independent News saying what a bunch of us have been saying for years:

1. The focus is news, not paper
2. Own the local news, own the market

Now if only news execs would start LISTENING!


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