Saturday, March 27, 2004

Hello? Readers? Are you still there?

I finally got around to reading OJR's "What Newspapers and Their Web Sites Must Do To Survive." The findings:
The real solution for the industry's future doesn't revolve around simply adding multimedia to generic editions. It instead will require that the newspaper industry:

1. Use new technologies to match the newspaper's existing cornucopia of content to satisfy each individual reader's unique mix of interests
2. Understand that neither newsprint nor the Web nor digital editions nor wireless is the answer, but that the true convergence of all those into a single unitary product not only is necessary but likely within 10 years
3. Focus less on the industry's ability to produce content and more on its unique service of delivering to people a complete package of content -- a change that requires newsrooms and corporations to go beyond traditional definitions of "news" or "syndicated sources."
It's always edifying, after reading a piece like this, to compare the advice with the probable newsroom reaction to it. Journalists are fighting changes like this to the death.

When we focus on something other than daily newspaper production, people complain that we're losing focus of our true goal, that convergence is killing hard news, that we're dumbing papers down, that we're alienating our core readers.

But our core readers are alienating us -- either by choice or by death -- and we're not attracting enough new ones. Newspapers are a business. And when sales plummet, businesses need to look at ways to stem the flow, start turning those numbers around. (And the numbers really are staggering.)

As a first step, I'd like to see newspapers package content for readers online as Yahoo or some other sites do their homepages. You can choose which topics interest you, certain keywords to watch for, and those stories will show up on your homepage.

This would be in addition to some of the big news of the day. You might not have Russian politics listed as one of your topics, but you'd still want to know if Vladimir Putin was killed.

And newspaper employees need to be more supportive of reader-scouting missions. We're missing too many campers to not send out a search party.


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