The probable elimination of a raft of second-tier newspapers during this economic downturn will provide a fertile environment for a new generation of digital media businesses to flourish. Here are 10 ways that will help newspapers make the transition to digital media companies:
Narrow the focus. When newspapers operated regional monopolies, readers depended on them to cover a wide range of subjects. Newspapers still routinely use their own reporters to cover a gamut of stories, ranging from politics to sport and business. That’s nonsensical in the Internet era, when readers may choose content from a variety of sources. Instead, media companies need to invest more money in their premium content—editorial that is unavailable elsewhere but that is highly valued by readers. Go deep, not wide.
Plug into a network. Media companies should finance the additional spending on premium content by eliminating editorial costs in areas where they are unable to compete with the best on the Web. If you are weak in sports coverage, link to the best Web site for your local sports. Well-curated hyperlinks to other Web sites are a valuable service for readers, and they cost nothing. Media companies will increasingly see themselves as part of a chain of content, as opposed to a final destination. Journalists will act as filters, writing with authority but also guiding readers to sources that add depth to coverage. The future of journalism is selling expertise, not content.
Rolling news with views. Newspaper deadlines suit publishers, not readers. News is a continuum. It never starts or ends, and coverage should reflect that reality. That doesn’t mean a newsroom needs to be open for business 24/7. If 90 percent of readers don’t log on between midnight and five in the morning, there is little point in being staffed overnight. But it is critical to be alert at the time when your traffic surges—typically between 8 and 10 in the morning and again around lunchtime. Remember: It’s not simply about serving breaking news—the AP and Reuters can handle that. The role of a newspaper company on the Web is to add value: look at a story from a number of angles, engage your audience, add multimedia.
Engage with your readers. The explosion of blogging and social media Web sites has created a culture in which consumers of news expect to be included in the news publishing process. Closed operations that shun reader engagement will increasingly be seen to offer a second-rate experience. Create functionality that encourages readers to share eyewitness accounts of breaking news, rate services such as restaurants and hotels, and get into discussions and debates.
Bottom up, not top down. The reporters on the ground are closest to your readers. They are therefore best placed to conceive, create and nurture community Web sites. Look at which reporters or editors get the largest mailbags and free them up to manage blogs on subjects that your readers are passionate about. That’s likely to be narrow areas such as gardening or a mom’s network, rather than broad subjects, such as politics or sports.
Embrace multimedia. Train editors to see video, photo galleries, graphics and maps as equal storytelling forms to text. A story about Tina Fey’s takeoff of Sarah Palin is incomplete without video highlights from “Saturday Night Live.” A story about a soldier’s life on the frontline in Afghanistan is best told with video, a map, and pictures as well as text.
Nimble, low-cost structures. About 75 percent of newspaper costs have nothing to do with the creation of editorial content. In a digital era there may not be any need for printing presses or vans to transport a physical product. But the switch to digital should also be an opportunity to challenge the need to hold on to other in-house costs. Newspaper companies are bad at technology, so a digitally minded chief technology officer will be able to get cheaper and more effective services by outsourcing. Newspaper sales teams don’t do particularly well at selling ads on the Internet; too often they sell ads that are irrelevant to a reader’s interests in an era when Google has made relevance key. If your sales team can’t beat Google, then outsource to Google.
Invest in the Web. Don’t try to suck too much revenue from your fledgling network. Your Web site needs investment before it can fly. Large networks, such as rail, phone and utilities, took decades to yield substantial returns. A Web revenue-growth model cannot simply be a mirror image of the decline in your newspaper sales.
Shake up leadership. One of the biggest obstacles to planning for a digital future is the senior editor or manager who is wedded to the analogue past. If the people who run your newsroom aren’t passionate about your digital future, it’s certain not to materialize.
Experiment. We are operating in the most creative phase of the media industry’s history. A time when broadcast, text and social media are colliding. Don’t be afraid of failure. Try new projects, see what works, and build on success.
Article from nieman.harvard.edu