Thursday, March 29, 2007

Print People and Online People - One metal twist away

I wish I had enough time to make these shorter! And I promise I will get off newspapers soon. Send me mail/comment if you have something you would like for me to think about.


I spent the last newspaper post trying to address the point of view of a print newspaper guy. I really felt for the guy. This guy works hard and earns his salary. The things the online people were saying to him were just horrible. That content isn't worth paying for. That newspapers are now worthless. That a blogger working out of their living room is a better than a whole newsroom. I don’t agree with any of these things and they would make me grind my teeth, too.

Would a paper newspaper still be a thing of value if all it had was its masthead? No, its value lies in its content. The value is the printed word, but nobody ever said how that word needed to be printed. Running a local online newspaper takes exactly the same content generation and management strengths as a paper one. It’s the same basic business and the same basic processes apply. But the pulp world has different limitations than the online world. And the online world works differently. Bridging these is just one mental twist away.

So rather than looking at a newspaper and talking about how it could go online, I want to look at online sites and talk about newspapers. These trends are from report called the Digital Outlook Report by Avenue A RazorFish. The general opinion is that this report is one of the best reports made. It's 75 pages long, and I think well worth reading, but I acknowledge that statement is probably untrue for lots of people! :-)

So what do these online experts see as services that will allow sites to be more profitable? What are some of the modern site vision, mission and functionality ideas that working now? Are there things that newspapers, or should I say "News companies", are in the unique position to cash in upon?

Web Trends

… And now a show from our sponsor.
Brand communications are moving beyond being a disruptive source of product information to a functional source of content and entertainment. This could be a branded desktop application that notifies them of special deals, a banner ad that allows customers to chat with one another or a series of ultra-short films.
Brand-sponsored content can help engage an audience that is increasingly looking
beyond the television for their entertainment.

Get Local.
Think about how you make your brand locally relevant. Could you create a map mashup that will help customer’s locate places of interest (and receive a brand impression in the process)? Could you use geographic targeting to provide place-specific messages? Can you connect customers on a local level and help them interact with one another?

Spread your brand around
People are not waiting to visit your web site. You need to take your brand to where your customers are living online. Think beyond your site and consider how you can distribute your brand in as many places as your customers are likely to be – both online and offline.

Extend your story
Yes your message can be longer than 30 seconds. Look to deliver your message in installments to keep your audience on the edge of their seat, guessing what might come next or eagerly waiting to see what you’ll do next. Serialized storytelling, if
it’s relevant and entertaining, can help hold your audience’s attention and dramatically increase the time customers spend with your brand.

Virtual reality gets real.
In the future the line between what is real and what is digital will blur. Think about ways you can extend the experience your customers have online to their real-world lives. How can digital experience and tools enhance and enrich life in the real world? Can a digital experience substitute for a real-world test drive?

Takeaway: Is the web moving towards local newspapers or the other way around? All the trends above are a page out of a newspaper's best practices. Emphasize your strengths around your local news and engagement. You have incredible amounts of expertise around these items, now figure out ways to embrace new communities, new tools and the new functionality enabled by the Internet.

All of these trends could be "owned" by either old or new media in the local news area, but the local newspaper -- it has the shortest path to being the new king.

There’s no middle.
In every category, traffic is going to a few big players as well as a growing field of small players. You’re either MySpace or a small forum and blog site dedicated to ultimate Frisbee. … Middle-sized players are getting squeezed; lacking the focus of a niche site by trying to appeal to a broad audience, but without the size enjoyed by their field’s leaders.”

Takeaway: Don't try to compete with the national news guys. In the print world, people chose between limited options. It was one or two local newspapers and the TV. A lot of people did both.

For global and national online news you need to compete with the following web sites:,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

And many, many, more, plus the six more somebody will dream up tomorrow. Most of the above companies spend more money in a year supplying food for their meetings than the local newspaper company has for their entire annual advertising budget. (Ok, I just made that up, but doesn't it sound great!! And the point is valid anyway.)

If I could partner with a big national guy so that I didn't have to put *any* resources on this daily stuff, I would. I would still want some simple form of the content and I would want to own the local conversation about these stories, but that’s about it. Well, I might have part of one person whose job it was to write about the local angles to these stories.

But in general, Anna Nichole Smith's death is not for us. Let the people that care about this get their news from either watching a 24 hour news channel or hitting a site that is updating their ANS content every 30 minutes. They already are anyway. For normal people it takes effort to get away from stories like this and I would applaud if my local news company gave the whole thing a pass.

But that does not mean that I wouldn't put any resources on the national or global news. If I could afford it, I would put more resources here. I wonder what breaking Watergate did for the Washington Post? How proud their community was to be affiliated with them? How much their circulation grew? The benefits are probably still rolling along as more contacts are willing to talk to them and more people around the world give them instant creditability. And I’m sure that this feeds into more credibility and more circulation.

Unlike the daily “display the national news grind”, Investigating and breaking national news stories is critically important. It is something that every paper should seek out and subsidize. Over time it will pay off and give a large boost in branding and circulation and advertisement, but it may take a reporter three (or more) years to achieve this. What would a story like Watergate do in today's world where all site traffic is converted to cash? How many people across the world would check the site every day for updates? Which advertisers would be drooling to get a piece of that? Could a large percentage of the traffic be kept forever? I hope that Watergate level stories are rare, but I don't think that good investigative stories are rare; they are just generally resource starved.

The Internet is where general interest goes to die
The digital media space is widely viewed by marketers to be a means of tapping into niche audiences and content interests. … The digital space has allowed for users to connect, purchase and understand products and content once unimaginable in a mass-culture world. That said, we continued to sense pent-up demand among the digital class for even more content, connection and interaction surrounding the specific interests. … This leads us to believe that low-cost ways to create specialized communities, social networks and content sites will continue to proliferate and become increasing import means of augmenting and supporting both the user experience and display media campaigns. "

Takeaway: Give your valuable reporters time to dig in and really get into the details of a story. In the print world you were limited by column inches and number of pages. These items do no apply to the online site.

Increase coverage of local niche communities. There is nothing wrong with amateur content on your site as long as it is identified as such. Create an area for pee-wee baseball and get a volunteer from the league to keep it basically up to date and upload pictures. They are going to do that work for somebody's web page; the whole league will be thrilled if it it’s on the news company’s site. Make this a generic tool and allow other local sports teams to do the same. With some minor development work you could become the go-to place for all amateur league sports. This will impress the local sports stores and gyms and your advertising base and the number of advertisers and your revenue will rise.

Get Nordstrom's make-up counter to do a weekly makeover with pictures and text just by doing a few point and clicks in your tool. This could give you increased ad revenue by local salons and maybe international makeup companies that wouldn't give you the time of day otherwise. Maybe Nordstrom's would be willing to offer a coupon to go along with this. Maybe they would give the company a cut.

There are a couple of themes here. One is that you need to develop tools to enable others to produce content. This takes a team of web professionals. In hindsight I think I might have dismissed the savings that a news company could reap by not printing. These people are the cost of success in the online world, but they are your conduit to great content and an abundance of readers.

Get in on the interaction.
Static, one-way conversations are dead. Consumers use brands to build and reflect their personal identities. Consider ways you can enable customers to personalize or take ownership of your brand without sacrificing its integrity. Are you making it easy for customers to tag your brand or incorporate it into their creations, their worlds, their personas?”

“The digital channel is kinetic; it requires constant innovation. Marketers who embrace this dynamism will evolve their message from 30-second commandments to open ended dialogs with customers … a much more favorable interaction!”

Takeaway: Don't just throw your content over the wall and be done with it.

It’s the perfect storm. All the players come together in your space for a perfect interactive storm. Other sites might be able to pull this off, but not as well, not as quickly and with a lot more work. Every article you write is the beginning of a conversation if you capitalize on it. Every advertisement is too. Every special feature, every weather map, every photograph, every link, everything can be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

The online news cycle is not a daily one. It's not even a few times a day. When you post new stories is a side issue. There should never be a second when your site isn't growing. Unlike the 24 hour news channels, you don't need to say every word, but you do need to enable the interaction. News is now about having an ongoing conversation.

“Yes, I said it. Newspapers are a dying medium. They have been for the last several years, and it's only going to get worse. Ask anyone in print journalism behind closed doors...they know their days are numbered. And don't just think I'm ripping print people because I'm a broadcast guy, because I've been involved in print for nearly nine years.” Jason Salas

Someday I may take on Mr. Salas’ whole article because it’s about 10% dead right and 90% really clueless. Mr. Salas works out of a Guam TV station and this was in a blog post of his. As Mr. Salas puts a wreath on the future grave of print newspapers, he makes the most poignant argument yet for why news companies will live. As I read this page, I actually (hand to god) saw an ad with a link on a topic I’ve been researching and I clicked on it. His company made money off of something he wrote 2/16/2005.

The old delivery mediums, paper, radio or TV, doesn’t really matter. Broadcast guys can still be newsman. Radio guys can still be newsman. And writing a blog post doesn’t begin to make somebody a newsman and everybody knows it.

Five years ago, if somebody suddenly made printing on paper illegal, newspapers could have moved their format online without too much work and not much would have needed to change. Most of them started echoing their content online anyway. This print on paper or no paper or both argument is a side issue. The answer will probably change depending upon the location. Northern rural routes where delivery is expensive may go with a 100% online solution. Florida, where the older generations flock, may stay mostly on paper.

Paper has many advantages over online. The smell of coffee and the Sunday paper screams lazy Sunday morning to me and I don’t want to give that up forever. So if any competent local news company has to (or already is) suppling both print and online content, what’s the beef? If the question is not which delivery vehicle is better; what is the online advocate’s point? What are the online people upset about?

“Each time there was a major advance in the ability to generate, store or disseminate knowledge, it was followed by an "information surge" and with it a sudden acceleration in the level of innovation.

When information surge happens, it sweeps through human society in a powerful, innovating wave that in some way changes everything everywhere. Surge brings together people and places and ideas in totally new ways. From these new relationships come new entities and new ways of living.”
James Burke

Newspapers have been delivering on this paper based information surge for the last few centuries. When newspapers were first printed they changed the world in such fundamental ways that those of us who were born past that time can not imagine how profound the change was. Nothing works the same way any longer. Newspapers are our society’s bedrock. For god’s sake, they have their own amendment. Not just that, but they have the first amendment. They are a beast whose powers are so vast and strong that nothing can kill it. Although one or two may be perverted ten more spring up to take its place. Even during the darkest times of WW2, underground newspapers were the lifeline of many people, even though possessing them could mean death.

This is the heritage of the print newspaper and it is a great one.

Online people are merely asking for the same thing.

But they want the information produced, designed and packaged for the online world. News companies will not be able to successfully create magic online (or for society) by repacking paper content in a design that mirrors the strengths and limitations of the printed page. Their world is fundamentally different, although the principles are the same. Online people can do different things. How information is generated is very different. Online people can tackle displaying different kinds of information. The time flow and display characteristics are the opposite that exist in the paper world. And online people can interact. Online people can interact with everything. Online people want to generate, store and disseminate information online. Online people can smell the information surge. Online people are reaching out with all our might.

But the paper newspaper people, so far, have not embraced the online world.

Online people want to interact with you, with the facts and with other readers. Online people want companies and other players that have a vested interest in the information come to the table as they play well with others. Online people would like to interact with anybody who might have something interesting to say. What you do on paper is good, but it is so last century. What you are doing right now has little to do what is being done in other areas online. And all of it, all of it so far, is nothing compared to what will be done online.

And that’s that mental twist I wanted newspaper people to make:

Rather than looking down on print people, online people are jealous of them.

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