Wednesday, April 26, 2006

How Newspapers Should Adapt To The Web

In most media pages, of most UK newspapers, the internal questions is "What are we going to do about the Internet?"

Newspapers feel they are under attack. Their once daily grip on the nation’s reading habits and opinion has been squeezed by the simple click of a mouse.

Visit Google News and one headline can have 100’s of different sources. Visit BBC News and you can have a good update of UK and International news in under ten minutes. A simple, twenty minute surf can satisfy your news urges.

If you crave specifics then visit an online log, blog as they are known. There you will get an idea of what is newsworthy, or be pointed in the direction the writer sees as interesting. Some blogs have become as popular and as ‘trusted’ as newspapers.

These trends are worrying newspaper editors and proprietors. I have a funny feeling though that journalists aren’t too bothered about this sea change.

The perceived prestige of being published in print is far great than being seen on the web. The fact that they are writing for a quality daily like the Times, Telegraph or Guardian masthead far outweighs a dot com suffix. What they don’t realise is that today’s papers fill tomorrow’s recycling bins.

An article on a web page will live for as long as the web server is connected to the internet. It is also easily indexed and made searchable and, irony of irony, blogable – if it’s an interesting article a blogger will link to it.

Quite bizarre when you analyse it. A journalist is happier to have their hard thought out piece published in a disposable container rather than have it permanently available to potentially thousands of people.

This is one of the major problems facing newspapers: the prestige of being published and the perceived demotion of appearing on a web site.

Another concern for newsrooms is that because people are spending more time reading blogs and using other news web sites they are not buying newspapers, so the habit of buying a daily paper is slipping drastically.

Each morning the question that probably runs through many minds is: "Why spend seventy pence a day on a quality paper when it is all for free on the internet?"

The paper habit is dying at the important youth end of the market. IF they don't buy now they won't in the future.

In turn this has led quality newspapers to a gradual change of content and style in order to maintain interest from the middle age group and attempt to attract a wider audience.

The trouble with this is that the older, loyal end (60+ years) has stopped buying their favourite rag because of what they see as a deterioration of content. In fact some will tell you that the only remaining quality pieces of writing are found in the obituary pages.

Sales are falling for every newspaper and the trouble is readers aren’t switching to a rival; they are actually disappearing and taking advertising revenue with them. That revenue is now going to the web.

So how do the newspapers combat this decline, establish themselves as the first port of call on the internet and make money at the same time?

First they should stop wasting money. Forget about free DVD’s they don’t work. We recently bought the Daily Mail because they were giving away the film Kind Hearts and Coronets. The film will be watched soon; paper has yet to be read. We saw it as a cheap way of buying a movie we loved.

So apologies to all the journalists who had articles printed in that paper. Hopefully they are still available on the Daily Mail web site and, if relevant to my research, I will eventually read them.

As well as dropping the unnecessary giveaways newspapers should avoid the habit of paying large amounts of money to opinion writers. Bloggers are doing it better, for a lot less. And there is nothing worse for your journalists moral to see excessive amounts of cash going towards front page puff.

The cost cutting exercise above could save hundred’s of thousands of pounds and that money should be spent on more staff. Does that shock you?

Opinion is dead; long live news.

It is true that some bloggers are the new opinion makers but all they are really doing is sitting at a desk, visiting web sites and reporting back (myself included although I get out and about when podcasting)

The newspaper buyers crave news from the world around them. That’s outside on planet earth.

So spend the money you can save above on more reporters, journalists, feature writers and photographers. And hire staff to go out, leaving the desk behind, and file stories from places where news is happening.

With this new talent fill the paper and web site with quality articles and loads of pictures.

A massive pointer to any newsroom should be the internet phenomenon of photo site flickr. It’s obvious but people love photos, love looking at them and especially having prints for the wall or backgrounds for the PC or mobile phone.

Some people can spend a happy hour just flicking through flickr - newspapers should be alive to this fact as eye ball hours on a site are very important to advertisers.

Papers should invest in a team of snappers visiting news stories and filing back hourly if not twice daily. You have web space, so use it.

And instead of having a style magazine at the weekend why not have one full of photographs. You are paying for snappers to snap, why use the image once in the newspaper? Put on the web and put into a glossy magazine at the end of the week, or end of the month, make something big of it and make those advertisers happy.

It is the same with podcasting. Some podcasts are excellent in quality but all of them are office/studio based. It’s as if the outside world doesn’t exist. Where are the sounds? Where a re the public? It’s a case of taking heads. It might be interesting to some but where is the life? Where is the colour that sound brings?

This is just a sample of where newspapers can go forward with their creativity. They have a hundred years of history and innovation behind them, they have built a name and it is one that can get them through doors. But first they have to get out of the office and spend their money on more staff.

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