Newspapers Still Can't See The Online Forest For All Their Dead Trees

from the free-advice dept

By this point, it really doesn't need repeating that the newspapers don't get the internet, and have made several bad decisions in crafting an internet strategy. Tom Mohr is the former president of Knight-Ridder Digital and has now penned a long "manifesto" that attempts to lay out an internet strategy for the embattled newspapers. He starts out promisingly enough, correctly identifying the industry's failures, and its inability to make any meaningful online innovations. But from there the argument gets shaky. Essentially, Mohr sees the industry's survival hinging on its ability to come together to form a giant partnership that acts on behalf of all the newspapers. This giant partnership might, say, negotiate better advertising deals with brokers like Yahoo and Google, and develop common platforms for managing and sharing content. But as we go back and look through the problems had by the newspapers, what does this proposal really address? The newspapers' problem isn't that they don't have bargaining power, it's that the value of their product has been diminished. They haven't figured out how to translate their offline expertise into the online realm. Simply teaming up to take on Google or Yahoo doesn't get at the root of the problem. The solution is not to eke out a few extra pennies per click, but to expand the market. By improving their product and learning how to add value -- to once again become important focal points of information and commerce -- newspapers could stay profitable and relevant.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Thomason, Sep 5th, 2006 @ 11:15am

    Depends on what you want

    I put newspapers in three categories, those that regurgitate/reprint stories found elsewhere, those that author much of their own content, and USA Today that digests what others print.
    When you use Google to find a news story, you'll see the identical text linked to hundreds of news outlets - some of whom offer it online only to 'subscribers'. For that reason, the "manifesto" makes sense, that the newspapers would be better off banding together to distribute this headline content.
    I prefer to read multiple newspapers, to get different views on the same news. I wouldn't do that if all of them had the same content. This too may suggest value to a joint effort, which puts up the headline, then lists under it the varied viewpoints from various news sources which the reader may access.
    The USA Today content is already offered by all the homepages of MSN, Yahoo, etc., etc. So no new model of distribution appears to be needed.

     

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    Michael Long, Sep 5th, 2006 @ 11:35am

    Adding value.

    Ah yes, the old "learn to add value" and all your problems will be solved mantra. Of course, when we get down to exactly what "value" they can add that will solve all of their problems... well, there the song gets a little shakey.

    Add up all of the "information-wants-to-be-free" types, and toss in the difficulties of getting subscription revenues and payment for content on the web, and you have to wonder exactly how they're going to be able to afford to create all of that value...

     

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      Mike (profile), Sep 5th, 2006 @ 12:35pm

      Re: Adding value.

      Ah yes, the old "learn to add value" and all your problems will be solved mantra. Of course, when we get down to exactly what "value" they can add that will solve all of their problems... well, there the song gets a little shakey.

      Hmm. Except we've covered this before in great detail. If you look at Craigslist and eBay you see two companies that basically took the classifieds model of a newspaper and made it work. So, clearly there are ways to add value. It's just that the newspapers haven't done it.

      Add up all of the "information-wants-to-be-free" types, and toss in the difficulties of getting subscription revenues and payment for content on the web, and you have to wonder exactly how they're going to be able to afford to create all of that value...

      And yet plenty of companies have... So, what's your point then?

       

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      BrattyB, Sep 6th, 2006 @ 4:23am

      Re: Adding value.

      stories have value. But there's more than one way to provide the facts

       

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    TiredOfTheSameOldCrap, Sep 5th, 2006 @ 11:38am

    ughh...

    I think you said it best yourself "it really doesn't need repeating that the newspapers don't get the internet" ... and yet, here we are again. I love the way you guys at techdirt are quick to point out where a business is failing, quick to dismiss any attempts by anybody to do something about it, yet offer no propositions yourselves other than the generically obvious.

     

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      Insaniac, Sep 5th, 2006 @ 11:53am

      Re: ughh...

      You're right. I'm tired of seeing someone just bash what someone else has done without offering any constructive criticism.......oh wait.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2006 @ 12:14pm

      Re: ughh...

      Uhm, stop reading it then and go away.

      At the very least, stop commenting on it.

      Oh, and its not a newpapers/reporters obligation to come up with a way to solve the polices problems when they report on the polices failures, so why would it be a tech bloggers obligation to solve the company in questions problems?

       

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    Gabriel Tane (profile), Sep 5th, 2006 @ 11:47am

    Wait a minute...

    I know I'm probably wrong, but isn't that kinda what the AP does? I know that they're a privately owned news agency and they charge money for your publication to run AP stories... but it is a kind of centralized news source.

    And besides, do we really need another 4-letter association to throw non-existent weight around and cry about piracy of copyrwitten "property"? What, the Printed Information Association of America? Soon, the three will merge into one "interest group" and will have complete control over all information media. The more there are, the more powerful they become when joined. Kinda like Voltron, only evil.

     

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    bile rag nate, Sep 5th, 2006 @ 11:53am

    Re: Wait a minute...

    rofl [applauds] to the voltron comment

     

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    Brian A., Sep 5th, 2006 @ 12:15pm

    The scary ole Internet..

    As many folks have noted most of the local and regional papers primarily syndicate AP and Reuters stories which can easily be read online for free. What I do value about the local paper are the original, geographically relevant articles. The problem is that local content isn’t going to sell enough copies under the old “daily printing press” method, at least not on the scale that current outlets operate under.

    Papers have a few options, none of which involve “banding together against the great Internet threat”. One solution is to scale back operations, focus on local and regional content and publish in a timely manner (i.e. not everyday, but every hour or whenever news happens) via the Internet. If they want to offer a printed digest version once or twice a week then great. Offset the printing cost by including advertisements and coupons. Heck, that’s the only reason we take print anymore anyway.

    The point is that much like the other industries featured on this site, the tired old strategies are not going to work if you just put some new lipstick on the pig and hope he’ll fly. If I had all the answers for any one of these ageing behemoths I’d bill out my time as a consultant. But I don’t. So I just offer up my few ideas in the hope that someone does something about the problem. After all, I kinda like my coupons.

     

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    charlie potatoes, Sep 5th, 2006 @ 12:36pm

    Never...

    I say never..will i give up my daily newspaper...what would i use to line the bottom of my bird's cage?
    but get my news from it? well duh...it was printed last night...as in yesterday.

     

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      Jeff, Sep 6th, 2006 @ 6:46am

      alt.cage-liner

      Why use newspaper at all anymore? I get plenty of liner from snail-mail junk mailings and covers on AOL CDs. The AOL CDs are especially great, because they're available free as I go past the carts at my supermarket. I can pick up 50 of those suckers for nothing, use the cardboard sleeves to line the birdcage, use a half-dozen of the CDs as coasters, and put the rest in my car to lob frisbee-style at cars thinking of cutting me off in traffic. Muhahahahahahahahaaahaaaahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

       

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    Eric, Sep 5th, 2006 @ 12:45pm

    Some get it

    I won't defend most of the industry, but the Washington Post is one example of a paper that "gets it". They host blogs. They link to blogs that link to them through an embedded Technorati box. They have del.icio.us integration. I think they've even enabled commenting on their articles (or plan too, anyway).

    The BBC is another news source that's proven to be pretty adaptive and innovative.

    The problem is that most news sites tried to transpose a physical medium (newspapers) onto the web. It doesn't work. At the end of the day, newspapers that succeed on the web are going to be the ones that look the most like blogs, a web-native medium. And there's going to be fewer of them; newspapers with little to no original content (90% of local papers) aren't going to survive on the web, where their presence is simply redundant.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2006 @ 1:02pm

    Re: Re: ughh...

    you must not have been checking in here at techdirt for a long time...

    google this: newspapers understand internet site:techdirt.com

    it's one thing to come out with, say, one or two stories about how newspapers don't understand the internet and that they need to come up with new strategies, and to not give any suggestions. but c'mon now... they've taken it to the extreme here. say you do read a newspaper, would like it if every week, sometimes twice or several times a week, they printed an article with the exact same premise? that "such and such just doesn't get it when it comes to such and such" (granted this makes up 99% of techdirts articles...) after so long you have to wonder if the person isn't talking out of their ass, in that there is NO solution to/for "such and such". if there is some magical solution, by all means, let the world know your genius. until then, find something new to complain about.

     

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      Mike (profile), Sep 5th, 2006 @ 1:33pm

      Re: Re: Re: ughh...

      "such and such just doesn't get it when it comes to such and such" (granted this makes up 99% of techdirts articles...) after so long you have to wonder if the person isn't talking out of their ass, in that there is NO solution to/for "such and such"

      Except if you actually look at the results of that Google search you suggested, you'll note that we repeatedly DO suggest solutions, such as helping people spread the news rather than just reporting on it and trying to lock people in. Or, how newspapers can customize to keep readers' attention.

      So, the claim that we never present solutions is false. And, even if it was, why should we remain silent each time we believe a newspaper has made an additional mistake? These aren't "the same" stories each time, but an additional case of newspapers (or someone in the industry) heading down the wrong path.

       

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    LogicPlease, Sep 5th, 2006 @ 1:15pm

    Re: Re: Adding value

    "two companies that basically took the classifieds model of a newspaper and made it work."

    well there's a worthless example. people aren't inherently searching for specific news stories prior to them being released somewhere. the only time people generally search for news stories is after they've heard about it from someone else. for example, would you randomly search "world trade center attacks" before you heard from somewhere that there was an attack on the world trade center? news stories are (well they're supposed to be) stories that are new that you haven't heard about yet.

    the classifieds are a completely different beast. you go to the classifieds searching for something or trying to sell something, there's an easy correlation to the web considering to find pretty much anything you want you use a search engine. it therefore makes for an obvious translation. another way to look at it is that classifieds are just a database of available things to purchase... the corellation there is obvious as well.

    how come you haven't mentioned web comics? is that another example of how people have taken the "funnies" section of a newspaper and made it work?

     

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      Mike (profile), Sep 5th, 2006 @ 1:27pm

      Re: Re: Re: Adding value

      well there's a worthless example. people aren't inherently searching for specific news stories prior to them being released somewhere.

      I think you missed the point of that example. The newspaper business has really been about using the news to attract people to the classifieds. The fact that these firms have unbundled that aspect is just another example of what newspapers *should* have done years ago.

       

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    Dave, Sep 5th, 2006 @ 4:50pm

    Business 2.0 article on NY Times Select

    John Heilemann has a good article on Martin Nisenholtz. Mr. Nisenholtz is the man in charge of digital operations for the New York Times. The digital operations division generated $66 million during the 2nd fiscal quarter. Heilemann's article focuses on the new NY Times select premium service as well as the purchase of About.com (which grew its revenues to $19.4 million during the second quarter).

    The person who said newspapers are going to have to have blog-like features is absolutely correct. There is a quote from the Business 2.0 article that the executive committee for the NY Times created a strategy that says they are in the business of "convening communities" which is pretty much what blogs are all about.

    Craigstlist has severly damaged the classfied revenues newspapers always dominated. Match.com has taken most of the personals revenue. And online jobsites like Monster and Hot Jobs have syphoned off much of the revenue from the help wanted section.

    Developing communities and visitors online to attract online advertising dollars and and also offering a "premium" subscription like NY Times Select or ESPN "Insider" are going to have to be some of the ways newspapers replace much of that lost revenue.

     

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    SmartTrousers, Sep 6th, 2006 @ 11:19am

    Re: Adding value

    Uh...
    Newspapers aren't being killed by the evil ol' internets. (People reading the printed word, and doing research...) Anyone heard of this thing called "television?" I hear it's where most people get their news. And politically inclined folks tend to listen to talk radio. Which is vaguely associated with news. A small-town paper reprinting AP stories can't cut in a global information society? Well duh...

    I hear the Buggy Whip Manufacturers of America are forming a new partnership to increase their negotiating powers with carriage makers.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 7th, 2006 @ 10:40am

      Re: Re: Adding value

      Politically inclined folks also read the news that comes from newspapers, whether it be online or in print. Watch the 6:30 p.m. newscast on one of the major networks. There isn't a lot of in-depth information there. Their ratings are going down as well.

      If you don't read newspapers, you should. Read the Sunday New York Times, cover to cover, and then come back and tell me there's nothing interesting, relevant, or important in there. If you say you don't have enough time to read them, then I say you don't really know how to educate yourself. I doubt a David McCullough-like historian will be using blogs and Techdirt in 100 years as sources for a Pulitzer Prize-winning book. But I could be wrong.

      What a small-town paper is best at is writing local stories. Instapundit and Katie Couric don't focus their newsgathering around Podunk America, unless there's something ridiculous going on there, like the kidnapping of a 6-year-old beauty queen.

      The argument shouldn't be about whether newspapers are providing important information, because they are. The argument should be about how that information should be dispersed so that it's more interesting and relevant to readers (ie. the semantic Web).

       

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