Wednesday, February 4, 2009

People Keep Talking at Harvard

Another interesting discussion at the Nieman Journalism Lab.
The topic for discussion is "
a group of newspaper executives” has launched, which “will be devoted to insightful articles, commentary and research that provide a more balanced perspective on what newspaper companies can do to survive and thrive in the years ahead.”
After 30 years making and selling print and seven years teaching undergraduates, I suffer from the "What you should do is ..." problem. At comment 19, I said,
I’m a Print evangelist not a newspaper person, but the “sky is falling” stuff has been rampant in our industry for years, so a lot of it sounds familiar.

At any rate, I thought I would weigh in with what it looks like from the outside.

1. Newspaper companies are in trouble because of the massive debt they have incurred. The secular decline in readership has been going on since the 70’s. Profit was fine until advertising imploded.

2. The fact is that readers are a niche market. Most people view, scan, search Printed newspapers. Companies like the New Yorker have the best handle on the niche market of readers. Because of that fan base they seem successful with a read for free, pay for print, buy the stuff we make model.

3. The web is for talking, searching, and viewing. It is actually Telephone + TV +Search +a big filing cabinet+ the cheapest way to buy stuff every invented.

4. Print is for scanning, searching and reading for the mass market in phsyical space.

5. Since the real estate on the web is unlimited, the cost is going to continue to go down. Since the real estate in Print is limited, the cost can be stable. But it’s a location, location, location issue. If the Print is inserted in the right location with the right content, the advertising sell should be easy.

6. Newspapers should use the web to find and nurture tribes of fans. Data analytics are a big help. The number and quality of conversations started are a great place to start.

7. Once tribes and loyal fans are identified make stuff to sell them on the newspapers own website.
Why pay a publisher rent when the newspaper’s own website reaches the most probable buyers of a book produced by their staff. Given that the logistics of book printing and delivery have become trivial, publishing channels are a bug not a feature.

For the not readers, which is most of the audience, sell them posters, t shirts and tote bags.

8. Newspapers should consider the long tail of their content as a monetizable value. Consider replacing textbooks with targeted editions for students in K-12 focused on history, science, business, etc etc etc. Textbooks are another industry who’s value add is disappearing. Newspapers have massive under used capacity in their pressroom + they already give away copies of their editions as part of a “do good” program.

9. Reporters should be organized in teams of three to cover beats. Start with beats that are interesting to a potential fan base. Focus on that beat as a way to do business. Stop putting resources into following the news cycle. Devote the same place in the paper to that beat coverage.
As appropriate, print a special edition for the fans of that beat. As appropriate, print and sell and book covering that beat.

The same thing works for printing companies. Find your fans. Sell them stuff.
Meanwhile, by following a link from I got to this at
The third role, the "town expert" role, is where we all fail.
Since he's a writer, not a printer, he said it much better. The town expert is the three person beat reporting team.

So this is cool. So far, 8:10, EST there were two responses.
I really like #8 and #9. Both think about “the product” in new ways
As I say from time to time, print is not dead. I especially like #6
Ah...the power of a checklist and numbers. It makes it so much easier to focus.

Gladwell wrote a great piece about reducing medial errors in the ER a while ago. I'm betting that if every editor and every reporter carried around a Printed checklist about the size of credit card, it would drastically reduce the number of journalistic errors and keep everyone on the same Page.

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