Newspaper Next: Talk, not action

The American Press Institute’s released their $ 2 million dollar study –called Newspaper Next–of what newspapers should do to save themselves in a digital world and the two big insights look like they are Think local and Cooperate amongst yerselves. In a USA Today story, the API folks say familiar things like
“Newspaper websites (collectively) have a substantial user base that can be competitive with Internet giants, including Google and Yahoo.”
and offer think like a marketer advice that is death to newsrooms but good for business, like the statement “What are people trying to get done in their lives? Where do they look for solutions?” as a filter for making newspaper product development decisions.
For someone like me, who spent years in online news, and then went off to more web-based companies, this report has the familiar ring of–well, the (heart-felt)tried and true.
I do want online editions of newspapers to succeed, for many reasons, but it’s been more than ten years since Jeff Jarvis, Peter Levitan and I started New Jersey Online, and alot of the newspaper industry messages–the shoulds–of what these companies can do to improve–haven’t changed much since then.
Having said that, I love local, I love community, I think that digital media, tools and services are here to stay and evolve and that new markets are (perpetually) to be made. I just question whether reports like this offer fresh thinking or–more importantly–products and tools to move the needle.
So, here’s another thought:
What if the API had spent that 2 million to develop an open source product–like a self-serve advertising platform–or a local listings product–that all their members could use?
Would that have affected more change than another report?
And actually solved some problems?
Isn’t this report the embodiment of the problem online newspaper businesses face–that there’s way more talk than there is action?
Look at the open source software movement, people–and get a clue.

Latest Comments

  1. Amy Gahran says:

    Hi, Susan
    You wrote, “What if the API had spent that 2 million to develop an open source product–like a self-serve advertising platform–or a local listings product–that all their members could use?
    Would that have affected more change than another report?
    And actually solved some problems?”
    Oh boy, you don’t know how true that rang for me today. I went to the Search Engine Strategies local search conference in Denver today. There, I saw that big players in local search, like Google and Yahoo, are totally ignoring syndication services that would provide purely or mostly local advertising to venues like, say, community newspaper or local citJ ventures.
    Meanwhile, there are intriguing options like pay per call that could allow news organizations to add considerable value, especially via mobil content.
    We don’t need more studies. We need more experimentation!
    – Amy Gahran

  2. Howard Owens says:

    Good post.
    I posted something along the lines (being a bit self serving in the process) that these aren’t new nor non-obvious ideas.

  3. vps hosting says:

    Yes indeed a good post, i just checked the 2 billion dollar study website, i think its a bright step in the online news field.

  4. Lisa Williams says:

    Yes — journalism is becoming a high-tech profession. That’s great news for j-schools and j-institutes, who can grab the lead by *creating new technologies* and then doing what other tech schools do: make bank on technology transfer by licensing stuff.
    I’ve been looking over a bunch of news websites that have some sort of let-people-contribute initiative, and they’re all one-offs. And indy community blogs run up pretty quickly against the limitations of blog software as a community platform.
    (Then there’s the commercial community platforms, but those cost serious money, of course).
    Newspapers don’t have a ton of money. The reason there’s not a lot of innovation is that innovation is expensive (eg hire a company to custom-build tomorrow’s legacy site today, or license a commercial platform), and so it’s bet-your-job high risk. A lot of the innovation is happening at the edges in regional pubs, using low cost or free tools that make the risk low enough that the neccessary experimentation to see what works can actually happen. And that can’t happen unless you’re willing to let failures fail, which is unlikely when the pricetag is high — people will keep pouring effort into a failed experiment.

  5. Damon says:

    Susan – Amen.
    I love the work API does – but I am not sure this report really furthers the debate. It is a great summation of everything we should already know.
    Here is the P.S. to a note I sent our editors last night after reading it.
    What newspapers need:
    1) Some VC money or the guts to give up a 20% profit margin to invest in themselves.
    2) The injection of the innovation / project management process that any average .COM has.
    3) A skills gap analysis and creation of some new job titles (Project manager, web designer, developer).
    4) People smart enough to execute on the above.
    Theory does not get this stuff done. Boots on the ground with the right skills get it done.

  6. Patty K. says:

    A lot of the innovation is happening at the edges in regional pubs, using low cost or free tools.
    Patty K.

  7. Leonard Witt says:

    Hi Susan:
    I spent the weekend reading the report and my first impression was to do a spoof on all the lingo that is used. And I did write that and I will be posting it tomorrow at my PJNet.org site. Today though I argue that: Look, this project will make money, time and resources available at newspapers for innovation. Smart folks will jump in and turn that to projects that make sense for good journalism. Newspapers needed something to get them started. This might be it. Most importantly, built into it is finding innovative ways to grow an innovative culture, which could include everything you and Jeff Jarvis want.

  8. Amy Gahran says:

    Lisa Williams (Hi Lisa!) wrote:
    “Newspapers don’t have a ton of money. The reason there’s not a lot of innovation is that innovation is expensive (eg hire a company to custom-build tomorrow’s legacy site today, or license a commercial platform), and so it’s bet-your-job high risk.”
    You know, I used to be able to accept that excuse — but these days there are so many great free tools that news orgs can use creatively. For instance, on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits yesterday I wrote about how the citJ/community site Baristanet has a cool Google Maps mashups tracking how teardowns are changing the character of Montclair, NJ.
    See: http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=31&aid=111515
    – Amy Gahran

  9. Dan Pacheco says:

    You raise some good points about how they could have spent that money. Was this research worth $2 million? Hard to say. I like that API is encouraging more innovation in the newspaper industry, and I wish there was more of that going on. It does appear to be a genuine effort, and they should be applauded for that regardless of the cost.
    I will say that more and more of us in the newspaper field — including my own haunt The Bakersfield Californian — are working overtime to push a lot of rocks up too many mountains in not enough time. At first we were ignored, then ridiculed, and now finally we’re recognized for moving boldly into supposedly “non-journalistic” areas like free listings, social networking and blogging.
    It is interesting that around the time that this report came out, the Knight Foundation announced its News Challenge (www.newschallenge.org), which is essentially a $25 million venture capital venture spread over 5 years that will fund online “news and information” proejcts that benefit real-world communities. It was announced during the Knight Batten Award luncheon we attended.
    This was announced after former Knight Ridder exec Bryan Monroe addressed us and the other Knight Batten Award winners and basically said the following (paraphrased). “We tried our best at Knight Ridder and it wasn’t enough — now it’s up to you and others like you, and we need to be doing more and do it faster to keep investors happy so you don’t end up like us.”
    In that moment, I felt proud — and also like the weight of the world was on my shoulders with not enough people on either side to help hold up the globe. Just 8 years earlier I had worked for Knight Ridder Tribune Interactive one floor below the National Press Club conference room where this luncheon was being held, and the office and the company that started it was long vacated. I couldn’t agree with Mr. Monroe more.
    Perhaps API could do something like the News Challenge. They obviously have a lot of money! Good for the Knight Foundation for adopting such a noble and necessary cause. Perhaps others will follow.

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