Monday, June 22, 2009

What local newspapers should do #7

This is the seventh in a series of 10 posts on what local newspapers should do to survive and thrive in the face of the economic meltdown and societal shift to the Internet.

7. Flip the model on its head. Everybody on a newspaper’s staff needs to understand that the newspaper is one of the products, not the identity of the organization. We now live in a digital world. The mindset of the organization, on every front, must be that everything starts online and is distributed or made available in whatever form the reader wants it, wherever and whenever the reader wants it. This is very difficult to accept, because as soon as an organization does adopt this approach it stops being a manufacturing company producing and delivering a physical product every day and enters new, more challenging territory. Today you often hear people say “nobody has figured out how to make money on the Web.” This is generally an excuse to continue to depend on print, which of course remains the dominant source of revenue for local newspapers. But is the claim really true? The answer is no. Plenty of folks have figured out how to make money on the Web. It’s traditional advertising-based businesses that have struggled. But maybe they would do better if they didn’t see themselves as they always have. It’s time to find out.

Here are some concrete steps:
• At newspapers that haven’t already done this, conduct anonymous media consumption audits in every department and share the results with the entire staff. This will ensure that everyone understands the scope of the shift in habits and behavior that has occurred.
• Create groups on Facebook and Twitter for the organization. Make sure that if people don’t monitor these services they’ll miss important information for their work.
• Hold virtual meetings. Shift from an office-based organization to a tools-based organization, providing staff with the mobile tools they need to be effective wherever they are. Ability to use the tools needs to be a job requirement.
• Train, train, train. A newspaper's staff needs the opportunity to learn. But they have to take the initiative, too. Training can be virtual. It doesn't need to be traditional classroom work. Newspapers need independent thinkers and independent actors. If people can't be both, they probably don't belong.

Next: Stop pretending that if the newspaper’s staff didn’t do it, the work is not good enough.
Previous: Newspapers should revamp their approach to print advertising.


  1. When you say "traditional advertising businesses," do you mean "general-audience advertising businesses"?

    Because it seems to me that's where the collapse has been -- in outlets too generalist and non-specific to be worth my time.

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