Tuesday, April 8, 2008

OJR calls for death, resurrection of newspaper industry

Earlier this year I discussed the opportunities newspapers have today, given their unmatched ability to link an audience to local news and content. Of course, capitalizing on these opportunities will require a complete reinvention, where the primary product becomes local news and information offered exclusively online, in near real-time, along with video, social networking capabilities, and true interactivity.

Today, The Online Journalism Review argued in favor of a similar type of shift, requiring the death of newspapers as we know them. The skinny:

Words matter. So long as newsrooms see themselves as "newspapers," the needs of that medium will dictate the organization's production process. And things like online community management will be left to automated tools, and, maybe, a few supplemental staffers.

I'm not arguing that newsrooms should stop printing papers. They should continue, as they should offer their work in any medium for which there is significant public demand. But the day quickly approaches when successful news businesses will liberate themselves from the term "newspaper company."

Only then can they end their focus on the old way of doing things and fully accept the possibility of a completely new one. One where reporters become as mildly concerned with production of a printed newspaper product as they have been with the production of the online one until now.

Great content and great tools are not enough to build the large, habitual audience that content publishers will need to maximize their opportunities to make money online, through advertising and sales. Even more than those two things, a website needs great engagement with its readers. And engagement with the public is something that's been budgeted out of too many newsrooms over the past generation.

It's time to bring that back. It's time to do that online. And if a beloved label needs to be sacrificed to inspire the innovation that will enable this effort, so be it. It's time for the "newspaper" industry to die. Because we all need the news industry to survive.

If newspapers put their online product first and made print supplemental (or got rid of print altogether), would they succeed? Well, given the problems they're experiencing today, it's about time someone gave it shot.

Hat tip: NancyNall.com

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