The death of newspapers

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Time ran an article recently entitled “How to save your newspaper.” It should have been entitled “How to kill your newspaper.” Walter Isaacson is under the false impression that all newspaper content is worth buying. He is wrong. Even the great New York Times couldn’t make enough money selling their premium content. And don’t even give me the Wall Street Journal argument. They make money because those who read it make money by reading it.

Newspapers are desperate to make money any way they can and the only person who is on the right track is Jeff Jarvis with his new book “What Would Google Do?” Some of his ideas are off and they aren’t completely original, but they are condensed in a way that even the least web savvy newspaper editor can read it and grasp the concepts.

I work at a newspaper and my goal is to keep it making money. At the same time I’m working on my Masters’ thesis which is on the death (or rebirth) of newspapers. The one thing that doesn’t seem to sink into the minds of newspapers are the following:

1. If you can do four things great (local, sports, photos, niche) then do it. Don’t do 12 things mediocre. The content needs to be great.

2. The content needs to be local. Really local. Hyper local. Micro local. You get the picture. Don’t think just because one county has only two new stories no one is going to notice–because they notice. And traffic will suffer. There are always other sources of news. Don’t get arrogant. Just remember the Encyclopedia Britannica. That is if you can remember them.

3. You need to own the niches. If you own a newspaper in NYC then you better be printing a lot on tourism. If you own a newspaper in Utah you better be doing an outdoors product. If you own a newspaper in Buffalo you better do a lot of stories on hunting, fishing and the Buffalo Bills.

4. You need to think out to the edges. And example of this would be: if you don’t have a staff writer to go to a city council meeting post the agenda online and ask those who attended to work out the details like a wiki article. The same could go for high school sports–supplemented with photos and video from readers. Also, why not allow readers to microblog live from games via their mobile phones onto your site?

5. The lines between the Publisher and Editor should be demolished. It should matter if no one ever reads a writer’s stories. If you had an employee who was in the bottom 10% of production at a plant they wouldn’t have a job very long. Why is that okay with journalists? The days of guessing are gone. Everyone should write every day as if it is to save their jobs. Those who are on the business end work like that every day–why not everyone else?

6. Reporters should all be plugged in equally that means they:
-know how to shoot video/photos in a pinch
-know how to use twitter and other social network tools
-are willing to do extra things like blogging
-understand web statistics
-think web first
-get breaking news online fast and iterate quickly

7. Newspaper companies need to realize that money follows greatness. Facebook is valued at $15 billion and is free to all of us. We don’t even need to bring up how much Google is worth. Why are they worth so much? Because they have great products. Newspapers are in trouble financially but they made their beds by cutting necessary staff while taking more and more wire stories which brings them closer and closer to average.

Newspapers don’t have Craig to blame–they have themselves to blame for losing classifieds. They have themselves to blame for losing to Monster. They have themselves to blame for losing to Yelp. This could go on and on. Newspapers need to stop complaining and start creating. And not just in new media. Everyone can get in on the reconstruction of newspapers. I hope that “Take Risks” becomes a daily mantra at newspapers.

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