The End of the News Media?
March 28, 2008 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Newspapers and media: the sky is falling, the bowl is being circled. What can we do about it? Your best suggestions please.

One of the things that has been preoccupying members of the media these days is how to embrace the changes that new technology is handing us on a daily basis. As an editor at a small daily on the East Coast, it's a question we're wrestling with. We've put up a whole host of new stuff on our website — video, webcasts, blogs for reporters and citizens. We have breaking news updates and RSS feeds. We're aggressively local in a way that most major newspapers can't be.

Most of the stuff relies on the reader to come to us. The problem that we don't seem to have an answer to is how we can best get that information out to our readers.

So, hivemind, what platforms should we be considering? How do you get your news?

There may be no silver bullet to fix the spiraling decline this industry's in, but who knows — is there a combination of things we could do to staunch the bleed?
posted by Gagglehack to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not quite sure I know what you are asking, but if you are asking how do you attract readers to your daily paper's website, I think the keys are probably frequent updates, stuff I want to know, and interactive forums. I rarely read a daily newspaper anymore (something I used to do) but consult (the Boston Globe) and the New York Times constantly throughout the day, online. is actually the first bookmark on my toolbar. I look at it to get the latest Boston sports news (the really important stuff in my life, like what free agents the Patriots are talking to) and also to find out what Open Houses are scheduled this weekend (Real Estate). The New York Times I consult for the opinion pieces and all the primary campaign coverage.

My really local paper is a weekly. I only occasionally think to track down it's website. Part of the problem is, I don't know what the URL is and I don't have it bookmarked, but the real problem is that it doesn't change often enough for me to feel compelled to find it, and when I do find it, for whatever reason the local news is kind of buried on it. Here is that newspaper website which I think is pretty poorly done. Something that would really help that site would be if they had a forum where we could discuss local issues, preferably anonymously.
posted by thomas144 at 10:39 AM on March 28, 2008

Coincidentally, I saw this post on Techdirt today.
posted by Nelsormensch at 10:54 AM on March 28, 2008

What I think you are saying is that you have a limited audience (your geographic area), a heavily updated website that should appeal to someone, but no way to get the reader to the page to become engaged. Have you considered cross-blogging? Write up other blogs in your website that are about your area, any special mentions of local events/things, and keep linking back to them. Then contact the other blogs for link backs to you. Think of it like connecting your fishing line to other hooks. What you want is to catch a reader's attention on another site without having to pay for it and have them visit yours.

If you have any advertising budget, go with the adwords campaign or even better, go to the blogs you have been cross-linking to and pay them to put up ads to your site. See if any bloggers with other topics than what you cover (but are in your geographic area) will put up ads for your site.

The basic premise is to share your readers with others so they will share with you. The big thing is to get your site listed elsewhere and funnel their readers to you.

Of course, get your site SEO so Google/etc. will pick it up as a high rank in the search listings. Make sure your stories have subjects that read like synopses, not hooks. Basically here you are trying to have the SE pick up you as a source of a lot of new info that readers will dive into when they come to your page. If the subjects for stories, blog entries, etc., are too traditional like newspaper headlines, the SE doesn't have unique words to tie into for search listings.

Good luck. I really think that print media rules actually hamper a snappy, searchable, and active website design and may be part of the problem. If you list the website, you may get other MeFiers who can comment on the content, layout, etc. to help you along.
posted by Koffeeman at 10:55 AM on March 28, 2008

We've put up a whole host of new stuff on our website

What's that done for your sales and circulation?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:01 AM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if this is exactly answering the question you're asking--but one thing that I think the WaPo has been very successful at doing in terms of driving dead-tree readers to their website is holding Live Online sessions with reporters and columnists.

I know they have certain columnists with blogs, and I'm personally uninterested in reading the blog of a writer in a local paper--to my mind, it's a bit redundant. Their best material is likely making it into the dead-tree version of the paper, so what is the value-added of the blog? I have limited time, and to some extent news blogs on a newspaper website become a substitute for reading the newspaper itself.

On the other hand, it's really irresistible to read an article or op-ed in the paper, then see the note at the bottom that the author of the piece will be online on Monday from 10-11 to discuss it and answer any questions. From a business standpoint, I think this sort of approach of getting people to your website has two advantages--an immediate bump when people come to the site wanting to ask questions and raise criticisms of an article, and also a more long-term bump as your readers start to recognize certain bylines and actively seek them out.

I probably wouldn't have a subscription to the Post still if I hadn't started reading the Live Online chats while bored at work--but now, I feel like I have a sense of different writers and often want to read what they in particular have to say about a story I might first hear about elsewhere. (What is Robin Givhan saying about the Obama speech? What is Dana Priest's take on the success of the surge? What does Steven Pearlstein think of the merger between XM and Sirius? What absolute piece of tripe is Laura Sessions-Stepp trying to push now, and will I read it even though I already know it will annoy the shit out of me?)
posted by iminurmefi at 11:09 AM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

1. Come up with a plan to make money from the website.
2. If you can't (and nobody else in news has) for god's sake dump the thing before it totally kills the cash cow. Work on prolonging its longevity by all means possible.
3. Periodically revist 1. Still no way? Back to 2.
4. Repeat until industry collapses and you're the -- rich! -- last men standing, or until the web is making money (hahahahahahahha, right)
posted by bonaldi at 11:10 AM on March 28, 2008

If you want to be aggressively local, you should have your state, city, town, county available as search terms on every single web page. Many local papers make this crucial error -- I end up at local pages all the time that have no indication of the state the paper's in, much less the town/city. "Hey, The Springfield Clarion!" ??? It's disconcerting.

Location, date. Location, date. Every page. Make it easier for people interested in your locality to find you.
posted by user92371 at 11:16 AM on March 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

Koffeeman has the right idea. I'd like to add something else though: don't have the normal business mentality when looking to enhance your publication via the social web. Do not let yourself fall into thinking like "getting a piece of the pie" or "using" the social web to your advantage. Be a part of the social web. That is the only way newspapers are going to be able to increase their relevance again. The blogs you've started can be a good idea, but don't try too hard to make the social web come to you. You will fail. Link link link. Don't just add comment boxes to the bottom of stories. Link to every blog that mentions that story saying "discuss this story at these blogs". Have a section of the website where an editor creates a roundup of the latest blogs covering local happenings. Don't just expect people to link to you if you don't do it first. Also, the idea koffeeman had of paying for adspace on blogs is okay. But it would be even better to set up a link trade. Ultimately anyone can buy an ad. And while link trades aren't quite the same as an unsolicited link, they have slightly higher relevance, because you know the two sites have to be somewhat relevant to eachother.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 11:18 AM on March 28, 2008

Do this. But please, linkify. Thinking that you're above hyperlinks because you're a respectable print news source reinforces peoples' ideas that the print media just doesn't get it. Currently on MeTa.

Also, never, ever, ever, sell those contextual ads that take a word from your text and link to some BS website that purports to be relevant to that one word. Because a) they're annoying, and b) they will undermine your attempts to embrace the social web by not being above linking to blogs and the like.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 11:35 AM on March 28, 2008

2. If you can't (and nobody else in news has) for god's sake dump the thing before it totally kills the cash cow. Work on prolonging its longevity by all means possible.

This is not true. It is true that the Web is not yet the primary revenue source for most (maybe all?) newspapers, but newspaper Web sites, including the one I work for, are profitable.
posted by Airhen at 11:54 AM on March 28, 2008

It's too early, but I foresee myself having lunch, reading the paper, via an e-ink reader.
The page size in these devices needs to get much bigger first (a 8.5x11" page at least, if not two) but the display is already equivalent in ease-of-reading quality to newsprint, and so assuming the global economy doesn't grind to a halt, it's going to happen.

So my suggestion would be to keep an eye out for ways to get your content updating to subscriber's e-ink readers on a daily basis or more, but not put many resources in into this just yet, because it's not viable just yet. The purpose is future-proofing - when making decisions today, make ones that aren't going to preclude you later unrolling an e-ink service.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:59 AM on March 28, 2008

As a Newspaper Professional my self I suggest you join trade groups like NAA, ING, IFRA, Pennsylvania Newspaper Association and read blogs like

Were you at america east in Hershey PA last week? If you were you would have heard the publisher of a small paper THE SHELBY STAR speak about their attempts to stay relevant. They partnered with IFRA and their parent company Scripps to dramitically increase readership.

-"the star car" this chevy blazer is covered in the newspaper's logos and it goes to every local sporting event and crime scene with a reporter, videographer, and sometimes a blogger. The car has a WiFi antenna so it can be parked in a high profile area while the reporters do their thing. They then use a simple cellular phone connection to upload their reports to their blogs, or newspaper's ftp.

-sponsor local teams, local events, ...

-their printed product is on people's doorstep by 5am. never later. after 5am. no one cares, they're out the door.

-help local businesses create simple ads

It should be noted that while their readership climbed, their revenues did not climb in proportion. The new media environment is not going to generate the margins of old newspapers. You need to cut costs and get your business size in line with the market demand.

Robert Ivan
visit my blog above for more info and KEEP INNOVATING!
posted by Paleoindian at 12:02 PM on March 28, 2008

How do you get your news?

Off the radio (tuned to NPR) and the internets.

Here in Silicon Valley, the San Jose Mercury News tries to drum up more subscriber business by installing people in little booths outside supermarkets and Trader Joes. These people try to interest passers-by in their product, by giving away hard copies and temporary subscriptions. They ask if I'm interested and I always say, no (although I do read castoff newsprint at the gym, and in coffee shops). Sad, it's a dying medium, and back in the day I was a voracious consumer; but I doubt there's anything to be done about its demise. People over a certain age still get their news fix from the daily paper, but their numbers are decreasing due to attrition.
posted by Rash at 12:17 PM on March 28, 2008

This is not true. It is true that the Web is not yet the primary revenue source for most (maybe all?) newspapers, but newspaper Web sites, including the one I work for, are profitable.
No they aren't, or if yours is, it's unique and hasn't been publicised. The only way they appear to be is if the costs of content generation aren't factored in. There isn't a single news web operation that can wash its face without the support and income of the print product. None can stand alone and support the sort of newsrooms that feed them.

Problem is that the print product is going away, and the difference in income scale between the two mediums is vast. They're wholly different business models. One has one which is failing, the other has one that doesn't add up. Rosy, innit?
posted by bonaldi at 12:19 PM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you have a website, I wouldn't pay to advertise on it. I would advertise with Google. And Google will only pay you so much to display that ad. And to really make it pay, you would have to trick me into clicking it.

I think it's a psychological thing. In print, I have to scan the whole page, filter the ads and headlines I don't want to read, and proceed to read the article. It's kind of a chore.

By the time I've clicked on an article headline on a newspaper's website, I've already finished that task. The page hosting the article has no other purpose for me. It doesn't make any sense for me to click any ads. And yet that is where I see the majority of newspaper sites hosting their ads, on inside pages behind headline links.

I think salon has had modest success with their gateway ads.

What sucks about the internet is you aren't competing with other places where users can get content; local coverage is a unique thing that probably no one else does better than you. you are competing with other places where businesses can place ads. And good luck with that.
posted by metaldark at 2:43 PM on March 28, 2008

There are 2 questions here:
One is from the editor: "How could I have more readers?"
The other is from the publisher: "How can I make money on the web?"

For the second question, bonaldi is right: no mass media has managed yet to generate profitability online. It doesn't mean that it is not possible to make money online. It just means that mass media are making (or have made) so much money in their traditional outfit that they can't imagine using another business model online. Theirs doesn't work here. So they are stuck. For now.

For the first question, I think you are asking the wrong question. I have been an executive editor so I can guess that although you wrote "how we can best get that information out to our readers", what you really meant is "How can we get more readers on our website?".

How is is different? Let's see what you have done till now: "We've put up a whole host of new stuff on our website — video, webcasts, blogs for reporters and citizens. We have breaking news updates and RSS feeds. We're aggressively local in a way that most major newspapers can't be." In brief: "We are broadcasting a lot of stuff." You are "getting information out".

Having readers on your website has nothing to do with getting things out.
It has to do with welcoming readers in.

You don't have to look far to learn how it is done: just look around, here, on MetaFilter. First, anybody can be involved. It doesn't mean that everybody will, but just that anybody knows that s/he can anytime. It's an open place. And then, once you become involved, mathowie gives you a room. Your room. You can put whatever you want in there: it's yours. It will show to the world what you want to show them, plus every contribution that you will make on the site. It's the memory of your participation. It's where people can know you better. It's where the website recognize you as a respected member. Your content is the very appreciated content of the website: it is preciously kept, it is available to search engines, and it bears your name.

That's the basic. I could go on and on but this is the silver bullet: welcome people as respected equals on your website. Once they are there, once they contribute and their contributions are appreciated, once they feel at home in your home, then we'll talk about the business model.
posted by bru at 2:51 PM on March 28, 2008

I suspect you are in a similar position to editors of the paper where I used to live. From 2002 to 2007, I lived in Galveston, a medium-sized city on the edge of the Houston metro area, 50-odd miles from the big city.

I received the print edition of the Houston Chronicle every day simply because I grew up reading newspapers and it satisfied my "need" to have one every morning. It's big, it's comprehensive, it has great Houston and regional coverage, it has more comics than I've ever seen in one place, and it has all the ads for the places where I shopped.

I also read the Galveston County Daily News online every day, but only once in awhile looked at the print edition (i.e., in a doctor's office). The Galveston paper, a daily, had comprehensive local news that was more often covered in the metro Houston outlets (the Chronicle and TV stations) nor on other Internet sources. This was for a city with population ~60k and county ~300k+. There was a lot of local news, but not enough local advertising to support printing a big daily paper. It was, quite frankly, skimpy, and it only made sense to me to read it on the Internet.

I've since moved closer to Houston, and I'm still reading the hard-copy Chronicle. I rely on a mix of Chronicle-sponsored blogs and independent web Message Boards for news in my suburban town and neighborhood. There is a also a daily newspaper based in the county seat of our county, but they focus on the news in the more rural areas, not on the Houston 'burbs. So I read their stories when they come up in Google News, but otherwise ignore them. I customized my Google News to include a section of stories which include the name of the suburb where I live. (Do you know if your web site is picked up in Google News...?)

I don't know where you are or what sort of town you're in, but if I lived there, I would either be aware of your paper and reading it -- either on the web or in print -- or else I would be cherry-picking your stories as they pop-up in Google News, if they're there. FWIW, in Galveston the local daily used to set up a table at the entrance of the Kroger supermarket (and a few others) and hand out free copies to people who would sign up for a trial subscription. I always thought that could also have been an avenue to promote their web site, though I don't know if the site was much of a revenue maker for them or not.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:18 PM on March 28, 2008

oops: The Galveston paper, a daily, had comprehensive local news that was more often not covered in the metro Houston outlets

..and I even previewed three times.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:20 PM on March 28, 2008

my first post incorrectly named E.W. Scripps as the parent of the Shelby Star. Freedom Communications is the parent company. My mistake.
posted by Paleoindian at 7:15 AM on March 31, 2008

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