OK, I was critical of the American Press Institute's tired ideas for the newspaper industry. But what do I propose? Well, here goes: 10 ways to strengthen local newspapers in the face of the economic meltdown and the societal shift to the Web.
Today I publish my first recommendation. I'll build my list over the next 10 days.
1. Start with the customers: Readers and advertisers. This might sound obvious. But too often newspapers still base their thinking and strategy on their own processes, traditions or needs. They have to stop thinking of readers as receivers or advertisers as sponsors, and instead treat them like participants in a common community.
• Readers should be able to customize/personalize how they use the services of their local paper. With everything newspapers offer, from the main newspaper and specialty print products to Web sites and smart phone services, the user should feel a sense of control.
• Readers should be able to contribute to the community conversation and a community’s understanding of itself in everything a newspaper does.
• Readers are looking for tools to improve their lives: financially, intellectually, emotionally, health-wise, etc. Newspapers should do everything they can to meet that need – to be a resource for a better life – and make sure their communities know that’s what they’re doing.
• Newspapers shouldn’t produce content the way they’ve always done it: basically, this could be boiled down to headline and text. Instead, they should ask what would provide the greatest benefit to readers in any medium and do that.
• Just as readers should be able to customize and personalize the services of a newspaper, so should advertisers. Newspapers need to be a resource to help businesses grow.
• Just as readers should be able to participate in the community conversation, so should advertisers. It’s newspapers’ job to help them do so. Banner ads don’t cut it.
• Just as readers need tools to improve their lives, so do advertisers need tools to improve their business. Newspapers should provide those tools and make sure that businesses know that newspapers are the place to turn to improve their competitive position in a local market.
Here are some concrete steps:
• Change the way subscriptions are sold. Switch to a membership model. (See step #2.) Enlist the community in the newspaper’s mission and offer a whole range of ways to be part of that mission, including never receiving a print product.
• Ask readers and non-readers alike what they want from a menu of options and then give it to them. This means newspapers should be asking for every e-mail address in a household and every cell phone and the capability of every cell phone, not just for the home delivery address. Each member of a household should be able to opt for a different suite of products/services and have a different relationship with the newspaper organization.
• Highlight readers' contributions on all platforms and celebrate their role by rewarding contributors with greater visibility, shout-outs and financial rewards.
• Offer advertisers ways to participate in social networking appropriate to their businesses.
• Provide advertisers with an easy-to-use suite of tools to allow them to play in the digital world.
Next: Establish a clear and credible public service mission.