January 30, 2006

Five Survival Ideas for Newspapers

As I mentioned yesterday [Read: Doing the Numbers for the Future], the current practices and formats of newspapers are not going to attract enough new readers to replace the current readership generation. The great challenge, then, for today's newspaper journalists is overcome this demographic reality and reinvent the newspaper in ways that captures the attention - in print or online - of coming generations.

Mike Smith, head of Northwestern's Media Management Center, who invited me to observe the center's management development program this week, yesterday offered five tenets on which a newspaper could build a survival strategy. They are (with my comments):

 "Newspapers must have a young reader strategy to succeed in the long run. Any one product or offering is likely to reach only part of the market and leave the media company without an offering that appeals an audience that is important to advertisers."

The message here is differentiation. The thorough and continuing fragmentation of mass media - following the divisions in society - demands journalism to be more directed and more focused. I believe for most newspapers that means local news and different products for different layers of its market.

 "Newspapers must become cradle-to-grave information companies. The current newspaper is likely to be insufficient to meet reader and advertiser needs as time goes by.

The message here is that change is constant, that news organizations who learn how to adapt will survive. The era of the static newsroom is dead. The age of the learning newsroom is upon us.

 "The right new products (and technologies) depend(s) on the readers in each market."

The message here is localization, creating unique print and digital news products based on the singular characteristics of the overall market, on the particular needs of the community and on the strengths and weaknesses of the news organization. A generic news template will not work.

 "Any young reader/new product strategy must incorporate an Internet product and should encompass other media based on the consumer's media usage, access and markets. Young people use multiple media - and often at the same time.

The message here is that instead of trying to lure readers to the news, we must take the news to the readers. Newspapers should heed the words of Willie Sutton, the bank robber who upon his capture was asked why he robbed banks. His answer: "Because that's where the money is." We need to go to where the readers - media users - are.

 "Most publications will require a major rethinking. Fix the core product. You need to employ all the resources of the company. But young readers are not just about web sites or new alternative weeklies the newspapers needs to fix the core and cover to cover."

The message here is complete reinvention - of the idea of news, of the newsroom structure, of the relationship between journalists and the community. [Read: The Rise of the Norgs and Building the Journalism of the Future, Intentionally.]

Some newspapers are making considerable investments in that future by creating new products aimed at new generations of readers. Here are a few cited by Smith: 20 Minutes in Paris; Redeye in Chicago; Mi Super Diario in Bolivia; and Brand New Planet in Toronto.

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Posted by Tim Porter at January 30, 2006 05:57 AM