News in the New Media

I was preparing my presentation for the Mississippi Press Association’s annual convention later this month, and thought that a summary of a few points would be valuable for various types of media outlets. So here’s a brief sneak preview of some points that I’ll be hitting on.

#1 Your audience aren’t readers. They’re — USERS.

userThis isn’t just semantics.  It’s a mindset. It speaks to the whole way you approach your audience. It will (should) have an effect on the kind of content you present, where the focus lies, and how the content is presented. Yes, you publish a newspaper and a related news site. Yes, people read them. But nobody is really a reader anymore. Even books are now interactive. In 2013, we’ve moved passed interactivity being a unique selling point, to it now being an expectation. People use, engage, and interact both with their media, and through their media. Even for print assets, you’ll find that changing your mindset to reflect usability and user experience will result in identifying new features or platforms that will help boost user levels and advertiser value.

 

#2 New platforms can kill you, or SAVE you.

ipad-newspaper

Digital is killing newspaper. How many times have we heard that? Simple truth is, that it’s not true. Or more accurately doesn’t have to be true. Yes, on demand multi-source news availability (read ‘Internet’) have taken a serious chunk out of subscriptions and circulation. And many papers, particularly small ones, are wrestling with the paywall question (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t). But instead of considering the WWW and smart devices as the nails in the newsprint coffin, you should be considering these channels as the shovels that can dig you up.

I’ve heard all the “death of industry” analogies. My favorite probably involves automobiles and horse drawn carriages. Of course the car killed the carriage industry, but that’s not comparing apples-to-apples. Cars delivered a fundamentally different product with a whole new set of consumer benefits as compared to carriages and coaches. The underlying product being delivered by newspapers, news sites, blogs, etc., is still the same – viable, valid, and useful information. In this case the product hasn’t changed, but rather the way users consume it.  That can be dealt with, if you approach it in the right manner.

Nationally, revenue from online subscriptions and advertising is up. Not anywhere close the to glory days, but trending in the right direction. So that’s good, but far from the answer. What do newspaper properties do to make digital an asset? What’s a strategy that can be employed by large dailies as well as smaller weeklies or community papers? How can this not kill the core business?

Let’s consider the underlying benefit that newspapers/sites offer – knowledge. The traditional type of knowledge offered by newsprint has now to a large degree been made a commodity. So what are newspapers to do?  My recommendation would be to position yourself, large or small, as a leader in your region’s Knowledge Economy. Host local seminars, conferences, and events. Shift more of your marketing budget into promoting white papers and hosting/promoting online forums. This builds brand equity, reinforces your value to the community, and positions you well against other news outlet competition that don’t offer the value. Plus, the visibility ups the value of your space to advertisers.

The digital media channels become part of this equation as a means of promotion, discussion, and dialogue.  They become a tool for you to promote your events, rather than competition fighting over a commodity. They can be real assets if used in the right manner.

 

#3 Digital and print should be neither separate nor redundant. Each should be “migratory.”

The legacy business is the crocodile, the prehistoric creature that will shrink, but can survive. The digital business is the mammal, the new life form designed to dominate the future. And they need to be managed apart.

That from Deseret media properties CEO Clark Gilbert.

I happen to respectfully disagree with Mr. Gilbert, at least about managing the businesses as separate entities.

Related to my point #2, I firmly believe that to maximize your brand value to advertisers, the more integrated your approach to the traditional and digital spaces, the more successful you will be. But I stress that “integrated” does not mean “redundant.” Don’t expect to attract new print users if you’re publishing the same information online, and vice versa. Content should be related and complimentary, but not the same. In fact, ideally content from one asset would be used to drive users to the other – the concept of asset migration. All your news assets are working toward a common goal, so there’s no reason that they have to cannibalize  each other when they can, in fact, be the primary source for driving cross user-ship. Taking this approach it makes absolutely no sense to separate the operations of digital and traditional.

I welcome your thoughts and discussion.

Cross posted to Maris, West & Baker.

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