Editor and Publisher, the chronicle of the newspaper industry, reports on a new study entitled "Newspaper Next 2.0: Making the Leap Beyond 'Newspaper Companies" that strives to point the way for the continued relevance of the medium:
To get to [the] next step...newspapers must stop thinking of themselves as newspaper companies, the report argues. Instead, they should consider themselves their "local information and connection utility." [...] For consumers, it must no longer just present news and information, but become the first choice for customers and non-customers alike "to help me know or do whatever it takes to live here." Newspapers must do that by using all the tools available from social networking, databases, localized wikipedia, "knowledge repositories," and more. For all the businesses in the market, advertisers or not, the job newspapers must "own" is "help me connect with anyone who lives here, in the most effective way possible." I think the medium may be on to something here. Earlier this month, I discussed some of print's problems, while also offering what I saw as a potential solution. Here's an excerpt from my comments:
The future will depend upon their ability to move the medium online and provide advertisers with more valuable strategies for reaching readers and quantifying ROI. One idea: papers should drop everything but local content and information that’s unavailable anywhere else, and make new and updated content available continuously, as it happens. No national sports (that’s why we have ESPN.com). No national news (that’s why we have CNN.com and Google News). No stock listings or weather, both of which demand resources beyond the means of local news outlets. But no one else is better positioned to provide in-depth coverage of news, sports, and entertainment, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And the good news is that they probably can do this with little investment in new staff or technology, as long they as they focus existing resources on their core competencies.It sounds like N2 is a more sophisticated version of this, but I'd be concerned if it were too ambitious. I think there's some opportunities for newspapers to become niche social network portals that bring together people already linked by geography. But first, they should concentrate on leveraging their greatest asset--local news and information--and then slowly embed other products. This is a case where slow growth might be the best model, simply because what they're trying to do is so huge.
In a comment to another post about the state of print, SBB reader Julianne said this:
[W]hile I'm guessing some evolutionary form of media will pick up newspapers' local beat, I mourn the loss of an institution. Reporters and editors weren't making widgets. Nor much money, either. They were motivated by a commitment to truth, to community, to the hope that they could make a difference. Who will pick up that torch and carry it forth, illuminating the dusty corners of local politics and community action? What communal forum will exist for commentary, especially from those who don't have access to technology? Who will keep watch and monitor truth and change for us all?I think this is very well said, and I share Julianne's concerns. Time will tell whether the N2 report offers real solutions, but it's great to see that the industry is taking action instead of hoping for the return of the good old days. There's a lot at stake--not just for newspapers, but for the communities they serve.
The full "Newspaper Next 2.0" report is available for download here.