Yes, A Newspaper Can Survive If It Focuses On The Community

from the well,-look-at-that... dept

When it comes to newspaper business models, we've been saying over and over again that the problem has never been about "free" vs. "paid" but the fact that newspapers have never done a very good job enabling their communities. It comes from the fact that many newspapers incorrectly think they're in the business of selling news to people. That's never really been true. They've always been in the business of selling their community to advertisers. And if they do things to drive that community away (or to fail to keep up with other, competing communities) they shouldn't be surprised that their business disappears as well.

As evidence of how focusing on the community can work wonders for newspapers, just check out this recent column by David Carr (who just a week or so ago had jumped on board the "all newspapers should collude to start charging" bandwagon). In it, Carr talks about the success of the Austin Chronicle, the local newspaper in Texas that has been able to weather the "newspaper business model crisis" just fine while (get this!) giving away its newspapers for free. But, it's also built up the famous South by Southwest event that just happened in Austin, and has become a huge community builder for Austin. In fact, many now identify the city with SxSW -- and that only helps the Chronicle. While others are shutting down, the Austin Chronicle isn't looking to lay anyone off. Business is off a bit due to the general downturn, but the paper doesn't have massive debts and seems to have a really loyal following among locals who recognize the overall value it adds to the community. Meanwhile, it's the newspapers that haven't bothered to really connect with their communities that are suddenly demanding those community members pay -- and are suddenly offended when people tell them "no thanks"?


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  1.  
    identicon
    Weird Harold, Mar 24th, 2009 @ 7:54am

    Market found for buggy whips, film at 11!

     

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  2.  
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    R. Miles, Mar 24th, 2009 @ 8:08am

    Re:

    And you wonder why everyone attacks your replies.

    ON TOPIC:
    A newspaper or two can easily get away with this, but not all will. I think what's missing in these articles is the competition between newspapers within one area.

    There's no way consumers are going to buy 6 papers just to read about community events. Eventually, this model could lead to contractual agreements between a community event (sponsor) and the newspaper, leaving all others out.

    But, admittedly, newspapers are still the cheapest way to wrap garbage.

     

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  3.  
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    Adam Singer, Mar 24th, 2009 @ 8:08am

    There is power in connecting people

    And this paper gets it. Thanks for pointing this out, Mike.

     

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  4.  
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    Tgeigs, Mar 24th, 2009 @ 8:19am

    Not sure, but maybe another example

    I know here in Chicago, the Tribune has a free paper called the Redeye. I'm not sure how successful it is, but given that they are being sold and filing for bankruptcy (I think) etc., if it wasn't contributing I wouldn't think the Tribune Co. would keep it in circulation. The content is kind of sophmoric, but it might serve as another example in a big market.

     

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  5.  
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    Nostalgic, Mar 24th, 2009 @ 8:42am

    It's not that newspapers failed to connect.

    It's not that newspapers failed to connect to their communities. Many of them were once integral parts of the community. The problem is that many of them lost their connection.

    In a lot of cases modern management techniques temporarily improved the bottom line, but in the process the newspaper often lost that "gut instinct" management style that had kept it connected. For example, in most cases it is cheaper to buy content than it is to write about local issues, so the paper fills space with purchased content and skips refilling a local reporter slot. It makes sense financially, but in the process the community connection was lost.

    I think one of the real problems newspapers have is that for they were using bought content. Now that bought content is available through other sources, and their customers have moved on.

     

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  6.  
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    wifezilla, Mar 24th, 2009 @ 9:27am

    In an area with 500,000 people, on any given day you will be lucky to find 4 LOCAL articles in our paper. Everything else is regurgitated news from the AP wire or something I read on Google 2 weeks ago.

    Newspapers got lazy. Reporters forgot how to report.

    Nostalgic is right. They lost their connection and now they are paying the price. Nice to see a paper that actually has a clue.

     

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  7.  
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    Felix Pleșoianu, Mar 24th, 2009 @ 2:02pm

    To the best of my knowledge, there are two (daily) free newspapers in Bucharest, and at least two (weekly) free magazines, probably more. All of them are local and VERY relevant. Granted, it may not seem much in a city with 2.5-3 million inhabitants (there are many more for-pay publications), but everyone's heard of them, and anyone would grab a copy when available. I don't have official figures, but it seems to me they'r pretty darn successful.

     

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  8.  
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    bkharmony, Mar 24th, 2009 @ 2:38pm

    A Newspaper for the People

    The Chronicle also speaks with a voice that resembles Austin's populace. Too many papers speak with the voice of their corporate owners. I don't think this can be emphasized enough.

     

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  9.  
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    jsut, Mar 24th, 2009 @ 3:14pm

    @Tgeigs

    You can think of the Austin Chronicle as a "real" newspaper like the Tribune or Sun-Times. RedEye isn't a good comparison -- there's a free paper in Austin called the Reader that fills a similar niche to the RedEye, full of local listings &c.

    ---

    I can't imagine one of the Chicago papers being put out for free, especially given the Sun-Times' price hike. I had no idea the Chronicle was free -- how long has that been the case?

     

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  10.  
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    Sam, Mar 24th, 2009 @ 3:30pm

    Valley Voice

    Here in Tulare County in central California we have a local paper that has been doing well. It covers local business, agriculture and arts much better than our local 'commercial' daily paper. If you really want to find out what's shaking in local business and such, you check out the weekly, free, Valley Voice. It used to be a bi-weekly, but last year moved to weekly.

    Their website isn't pretty, but gives an idea of the paper's coverage. Don't forget to check the 'Second Front Page.'
    http://www.valleyvoicenewspaper.com/

    Sam Hunt,
    Visalia, CA

     

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    Fentex, Mar 24th, 2009 @ 4:40pm

    re: "what's missing in these articles is the competition between newspapers within one area."

    If the newspaper becomes a community participant/organizer what's the supposed benefit of competition within a community?

    If being the nucleus of a community is the future of newspapers competition isn't going to work the same way as between two producers of some other good.

     

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    pwb, Mar 25th, 2009 @ 2:29am

    Amen. Newspapers could get to profitability if they simply tried.

     

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  13.  
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    Gene Cavanaugh, Mar 25th, 2009 @ 9:25am

    Austin Chronicle

    Good post, Mike! Excellent reporting!
    Of course, we can put it a little more in perspective if we note that Texas is planning on fighting back against evolutionary teaching by requiring creationism in their textbooks - though that doesn't detract from the quality of your post.
    And, by the way, I was born in Texas (but then, I was born in the US; which invaded Iraq without provocation after electing a moron as President!).

     

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