January 22, 2003

RSS - Be Afraid, Big Media, Be Very Afraid

"Let's face it," writes Rusty Coats in NewsFuture, API's newsletter on the Internet and convergence. "Fear is why most newspapers first went online - afraid Microsoft, AOL or Joe Blow was going to steal market share. Not having your content available in a medium that is growing in popularity rather than waning may not have immediate ROI, but the long-term prognosis for such ignorance is death."

That's the hammer Coats uses to pound home his argument that newspapers - Big Media, as he puts it - should embrace RSS, a form of XML that enables anyone, Big Media or Small, to easily syndicate their content and have it read through a news aggregator.

What that means is that readers can receive updated news feeds from independent journalists, bloggers or just anyone with something to say.

Coats warns, correctly, that newspaper companies are already behind on the innovation curve and technical and cultural impediments such as registration requirements and bottom-line orientation put them at a competitive risk - once again.

Most newspapers still don't realize that in the digital world of omni-media they are simply another source of information, and not necessarily a more authoritative or compelling one. Coats gets updates from more than 20 RSS feeds. "These feeds," he says, "are no less interesting, insightful or engaging than the mainstream media feeds."

Some newspapers have caught on (the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor offer RSS feeds), but most have not, preferig to believe they are winning the online battle for eyeballs. Even trade publications like Editor & Publisher continue to report Nielsen ratings about Web traffic -- Newspapers Run 9 of Top 20 News Sites - as if they were good news (read my earlier post on this), they ignore the real meaning of such data: Online consumers don't see newspapers, the organizations with the nation's largest news-gathering resources, as the category leaders for news, opinion and sports.

I don't think it's a coincidence that MSNBC, the top-ranking online news site, was the first major news organization to incorporate blogs into its content mix. And when Instapundit blogfather Glenn Reynolds made so much noise -- and drew so much traffic -- he couldn't be ignored by Big Media, MSNBC, and not any newspaper company, hired him.

Coats is right. As the web's news and information hierarchy flattens further, newspapers that don't adapt will become even more irrelevant. And that will really hurt the bottom line.

Posted by Tim Porter at January 22, 2003 09:12 AM