Though we’ve been talking about it for years, the fact that the newspaper industry is circling the bowl is something that has seemed to escape many journalists and media academics. Economic groups are taking bets on the next major newspapers to close up shop or go online-only. The fact of the matter is that it’s no longer economically viable to print newspapers, and most people don’t care. That’s not a great equation for saving your business.
The problem is that while newspapers are more expensive than they are valuable, the information they contain is vitally important to the public. Blogs and on-the-spot citizen journalists pick up some of the slack, but in order to realize the responsibilities of the fourth estate, journalism needs to be a profession that comes with training, depth of knowledge and codes of ethics.
So, while I’m not an expert on the print media industry, these are a few ways I can see to fix the local newspaper industry.
- Wean your customers off paper. According to Business Insider, it costs twice as much to print the NYT than it would cost to send every subscriber a free Kindle. Entice people to subscribe by offering each two-year subscription or renewal a Kindle, provided they take an digital-only subscription.
- Stay hyper-local. If everyone who reads your paper can easily get their information from another (probably better) source, don’t waste money trying to break national stories. Instead, focus on things that matter locally, provide analysis of the big stories nationally.
- Send them somewhere else. People are still reading you for the news, so give it to them. Provide a few lines of context to breaking stories, and link them to a number of other sources. Sending them to another newspaper may seem counter-intuitive to advertising woes, but if the local paper can still be your subscribers’ windows to the world, they’ll keep coming back.
- Bet your last dollar on digital. Not enough companies invested enough in digital five years ago when it could have made a difference. Now’s the time you need to double down and make the investment in digital by surrounding your subscribers with the news in all of their digital channels. At the same time, forget about the news cycle – it no longer exists. People are used to getting news on-demand, as it happens – getting a paper in the morning and staying uninformed for 24 hours is a thing of the past.
- Create community. The dawn of the hyperlocal community is here, and local newspapers are in a great position to build those communities. They have the infrastructure, the advertisers, and the eyeballs necessary to make it work, but most have failed at creating something that people want to be a part of. Combine that with the fact that community platforms are more accessible and affordable than ever, and the answer is simple. Be part local guide and connector, and build up an engaged community, and it may just be possible to wrestle classified advertising revenue back from craigslist and kjiji.
The crisis of the newspaper industry is one of change. Journalists in many cases view new media as toys, and their most vocal customers romanticize the tactile experience of reading the news as ink smeared on dead trees – the rest of the people don’t care enough to complain – they’ll gravitate toward the path of least resistance and get their news through Google News, blogs, Twitter, or any number of other venues that better suit their lifestyle.
In the end, if the newspaper industry is to be saved – something that I think is highly important to the future of journalism in general, something’s got to give. Like any other species on the verge of extinction, newspapers will adapt or die. Those who believe that newspapers’ intrinsic value will keep it around for ever will find themseleves comiserating with the type-setters and other obsolete industries that never saw it coming.