In the blogosphere, there is a large hue and cry about the death of newspapers. And it’s true. Newspapers are losing advertisers, subscribers and relevance. There are a lot of reasons for this.
- It used to be that only the newspapers had the printing press. Therefore they owned the news manufacturing (reporting) and distribution (printing and delivering) of the news. The advertisers were looking to get to the subscribers and this was the only way to do so on a local basis.
- Journalists were proud of their independence and their political slants. They were proud of the investigative reporting and in-depth stories that were difficult to tell in other formats. People wanted and were willing to pay for the news. Because this was the way that the stories were told, people did not even look outside the news box for other alternatives. Publishers made fortunes — ever been to San Simeon, home of William Randolph Hearst?
- First to take some of the local advertising dollar from the newspaper was local cable tv and radio. Now the options of advertisers become a little more open. You could focus your advertisement more closely geographically, ethnically, demographically and politically, in ways that you could not with newspapers.
- Then the internet was born. The internet changed all of the rules. Craigslist was the first to take on a profitable piece of newspaper turf, classified advertising. Then CareerBuilder and Monster.com took on the employment section. Coupons became available on-line. Blogs on every conceivable (and some not conceivable) topics were started by people with a passion. There was more variety, because more people were adding to the mix. And all of it (well, most of it anyway) was free. The newspapers had nothing to counter these new offerings.
- So, the papers tried to find alternative ways to bring in revenue and lower costs. They reduced foreign bureaus and they furloughed editors and reporters. The big guys started to syndicate their reporting to smaller papers in hopes of getting some revenue boost. Now, the same NY Times story was being reprinted in the Orlando Sun or the Topeka Capital-Journal. The big papers put in paywalls, where a consumer would have to pay a subscription fee to view their content, but since folks in Topeka or Orlando already saw the content and it was available free, people had an easy way to Google their way to the same content that was behind the paywall.
- Then Google came up with Google News and culled news sources from around the globe and presented the news to viewers for free. Newspapers no longer had any loyalty from their readers when you could read multiple articles from different viewpoints on the same topic with only a click. Of course, the newspapers blamed Google for taking away their business, but in reality, they had not changed their business model in over 100 years and had not kept up with the changes in their customer base. And their old consumers were loving the new world with more choice and more information, in a more usable format.
Folks like Jeff Jarvis think about the news world all of the time and are trying to figure out what the next big thing is. He is running a project at City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism that explores new business models for news. But not all of the good ideas come out of New York.
Here in Chicago, a couple of friends of mine, Jeff Leitner and Jim Jacoby at Manifest Digital have been working on what could be a game changer for the news business — or rather, the vacuum created by failing news businesses. Jeff and Jim are teaming up with another Chicago company to produce something they call a private label news service.
In short, they create legitimate news outlets for their clients — professional reporters, professional editors, straight news. Watch this — it’s a minute and a half and pretty damn entertaining.
The point of this is that one of the things that newspapers have always provided is a third party objective view of a story. The best news stories are not a press release sent out by companies, but real stories reported by real reporters. For example, the US Chamber of Commerce was interested in delivering news about the state attorneys general, so they created Legal News Line. Real news on a regular basis reported by credentialed journalists through their own news portal, but also delivered to places like Google News.
I’m not sure that I believe that this is the future of news, but it is darn interesting.