Newspapers Are Positioned to Win on the Web – If They Can Stop Whining Long Enough
There’s a bit too much glee lately about the pending (and inevitable) death of newspapers. The only people who don’t seem to understand that their product is obsolete – are newspaper publishers and editors.
The New Yorker just weighed in on the topic. This quote stood out for me:
“At places where editors and publishers gather, the mood these days is funereal. Editors ask one another, ‘How are you?,’ in that sober tone one employs with friends who have just emerged from rehab or a messy divorce.”
It’s sad because these old, ink-stained wretches just don’t get it. They should be celebrating because no business today is better equipped for the Web and the 24/7 news gathering cycle than newspapers. Newspapers have the experienced staff, the necessary news gathering skills, and structure in place to lead the digital revolution in news consumption.
Yet all we hear about is the death of the newspaper and the moaning and groaning from newspaper and publishers.
Unfortunately, these old, ink-stained wretches don’t understand that newspapers don’t matter. Newspapers are just a channel – a mode of news delivery. It isn’t the “product.” The news is the product: the obituaries, the sports pages, the box scores, the recipes, the local and national news, the comics, the letters, the columns, the editorials, and the business news.
All of it is still highly desired by consumers.
Yet despite having all the assets – the old, ink stained wretches still don’t get it.
They keep treating their Web proprieties as extensions of the newspaper. Boston.com – the Boston Globe’s web site – is a perfect example and they actually do the Web better than most newspapers.
But Boston.com is a crowded, mish-mash of content – as if the daily newspaper vomited on a computer screen. It gives readers a headache. How can Boston.com and other newspaper web site improve?
Here are a few suggestions:
Allow readers to build their own front pages and choose the content (and the amount of content) they want on their front pages in much the same way that Google Reader allows people to customize RSS feeds from different sites. So if Reader A wants mostly sports and local news – let me set it up that way. If Reader B wants celebrity news and recipes – give it to her. Then go another set forward and allow for color and graphical customizations (themes: Red Sox, Patriots, Seasons, Skiing, Gardens, Boston, etc…)
Allow for readers to comment on every story. Many newspaper sites don’t allow any comments or only comments on some stories. But even more crucial – have the reporters and editors respond. The point of allow comments is to engage with readers – to start conversations. Reporters rarely respond or talk about their reporting. They should.
Change the Mentality
When the New York Times broke the news on Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s affair with a prostitute the editors had a debate about whether to hold the story for the next day’s newspaper or to go with it on the Web. They finally came to their senses and broke the story on the Web. But why are newspapers still having this debate?
Tagging and Other Tricks
Newspaper sites are difficult to navigate. They should tag stories to allow readers to easily find similar pieces. This means, of course, to allow readers into their archives rather than only keeping stories fresh for a few days or a few weeks. But it also means stop trying to be an island. Link to other stories and content. Engage with bloggers — especially those that aggregate your content. Set-up up partnerships. Think about search optimization. Become part of the online discussion instead of the old fashion mentality that newspapers are above it all.
Use more audio and video. Reporters should be equipped so they can record and videotape interviews. Arm news photographers with video cameras. Experiment with the medium. How about video restaurant reviews? How about locker side chats with ballplayers? How about audio and video tours of local tourist attractions? How about comics that move and talk? Creativity has no bounds on the Web
Newspapers need to stop the death knell for themselves and start engaging — start moving! If they do that – they might even be able to win.