For newspapers, moving forward means correcting past mistakes

31 Jan

You can fault the newspaper industry for lots of things. In many cases, they missed the boat on many technological advances, put too much content online for free and are reluctant to altering their reporting to a web-first strategy.

But you can’t fault the industry for failing to take responsibility for their mistakes. Dan Potter’s lecture was refreshingly honest about where the industry went wrong. No Wall-Street-investment-bank-style denial of all guilt circa 2010 here.

Potter openly admitted that newspapers got it wrong when it went to putting their content online. Only now are many organizations beginning to charge for online subscriptions. When newspapers began selling advertisements online, nobody knew what price to ask for, so an arbitrary price was set that we now know was far too low. At the time, online advertisement was merely seen as supplemental to their print revenues. But now, as print revenues are shrinking and dollars from classifieds have all but disappeared, newspapers are realizing they can’t sustain themselves on digital advertising alone. And it’s too late to substantially raise the online ad prices  Unlike 30 years ago, newspapers aren’t the only way for businesses and brands to reach their audiences. If newspaper online ad prices skyrocket, businesses can turn to Google, Facebook and other online sites for cheaper digital paid placement.

The biggest change for newspapers is not that the internet, a new-ish tool, is providing competition. Newspapers have survived and thrived through the advent of radio and the introduction of  television. Instead, it’s that newspapers no longer have the power and market monopoly they once had. There are no barriers to entry for hyperlocal bloggers wanting to report on things happening in their neighborhood. For legacy organizations with long traditions, it can be hard to see readers and advertisers slowly turning to other sources.

Newspapers are labor intensive and incredibly expensive to run. But newspapers are also still better at gathering city, regional and community news than any other news organizations. Brian Brooks likes to tell prospective students, the newspaper in any city usually employs more journalists than all the radio and television stations combined. Newspapers might not always be papers. But they can easily be news organizations, so long as they embrace, not reject, the innovation the media industry will continue to see in coming years,

-Laura Davison


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