Newspapers Still Misjudge Their Value

It’s been a while since I ranted about newspapers. Since I came from the industry, it’s still in my blood and will probably always be. The first newspaper I ever worked for is up for sale, and the local newspaper here is gasping its last breath. Like many, I don’t read the newspaper anymore, unless I see a recommended article through Twitter or one of the feeds that I digest.

This month’s .NET magazine mentions a short article on how Google and micropayments may try to save the newspaper industry. It seems that Google has submitted a recommendation to the Newspaper Association of America on a plan to utilize micropayments. To be honest, I think this is a terrible idea. Newspaper online readership isn’t doing terribly well – so I don’t believe asking for a penny or two is the answer.

Newspapers are blind to their value. The free press has a colorful history in this country… up until 40% profit margins for squeezing ads into every corner of the paper happened. Go to any newspaper boardroom and the discussion is all about ad revenue and how to keep printing ink on dead trees for profit. Go to any newspaper mogul and it’s all about how to cut staff, shrink newsprint costs, and – only now – how to begin getting profits online.

Void from any of those conversations is the incredible talent of journalists for digging deep and writing profound articles that both keep people entertained and keep our democracy in check. A couple years ago, I said that selling news is dead… I’m rethinking that now.

Here’s my advice to newspapers:

Don’t sell your content to readers. Instead, sell your content to portals, websites, and businesses. Allow websites to find and filter the information that they want to display, allow them to integrate the content into their own site, and allow them to present it the way they want it presented… at a cost.

Newspapers may have become effective advertising mediums over the years, but they need to return to their roots… providing great content with the most talented writers in their respective industries and regions.

The process of driving a story from idea to print is an incredible process that has, in my opinion, been destroyed in recent years. Newspapers need to return to their roots if they wish to survive. Allow journalists to make a name for themselves, pay them for their contents’ performance, allow them to be rock stars. That doesn’t mean journalists have to sell their souls… they understand the importance of a clean reputation.

118052580_300.jpg I would personally love to supplement the content on Martech Zone with content from professional journalists so the subjects and content are both wide and deep… while keeping costs down.

Those outside the industry are already seeing the opportunity. Friend Taulbee Jackson has launched Raidious Digital Content Services, and his company is borrowing both process and talent from the newspaper industry. Ironically, the local newspaper did an article on the startup.

I’m not sure if there’s any hope for newspapers to pull themselves out of this rut. I would just hate to see the talent of these organizations get lost, though. Great content is difficult to find today… hence the need for increasingly sophisticated search and social mediums. Newspapers could bridge the gap, keep their talent, and move back to profitability.


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    I think you are right on with this one. The newspaper industry was (and should be again) in the news business, not the advertising business. Why not leverage what they already have – reporters – and give them an infrastructure for peddling their craft. The model would be similar to real estate agents who align with particular agencies.


    Curt Franke, BitWise Solutions

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    You say newspaper online readership "isn't doing very well." According to Quantcast: -> 45th ranked site
    LATimes -> 110th ranked site -> 133rd ranked site -> 152nd ranked site -> 160th ranked site

    Considering that these are local sites (although these do have national appeal), and considering these ranks are against sites like facebook, google and yahoo, I would say readership is pretty good. Their ability to monetize is a whole different question.

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      @Halwebguy rank is a snapshot, please look at the trends on these companies. Nytimes tanked in 2009 and only recently started to build readership online. Latimes is flat over the last year. SFGate has been flat for 2 years. has really slid downward over the last year. is the only one that appears to be growing well.

      Keep in mind that pulling out a few top sites doesn't tell the tale of the entire industry, though! I'm reading some of these sites that you speak to… but I'm doing it because I cancelled the local paper and stop reading it every day. Overall, online newspaper readership continues to decline.

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