Presstime has published a pretty interesting analysis of the future by a bunch of folks with lots of theories about where newspapers are heading. The piece offers some good insights. Presstime was kind enough to include my comments, but they edited some of my wisdom just as they edited everybody else. I think it it is notable that there is not a lot or agreement in that post
A blog allows me to print my comments as I submitted them.
1) What is the mission of the core newspaper print product these days?
The mission of all print products should be to make sense of the news to make citizens better. Some of that is an altruistic democratic notion, but print products can make readers better in a host of other ways too. . Print products cannot get caught up in “commodity” information. Everything a print source does must “add value.” Even weather and sports must be presented in ways that distinguish the information from commodity sources.
2) You’re starting the newspaper print product from scratch. What stays and what goes (e.g., sections of the paper, beats, days published, classified ads)? How do you rethink the parts you keep?
What important here is not the individual pieces, but how I think about it. I think about the value proposition of specific readers in specific demos and I contemplate the “value-add” my organization can bring. I concentrate on “stuff people don’t know.” In every news category I have to develop approaches and material that does not fall on the commodity side of the news line. A simple AP story on the bailout simply is not enough. I have to explain the bailout, I have to tell readers whether it makes sense and I must tell readers what it means for them to in the efforts to buy a car or a house a week from Thursday.
3) A number of newspapers are dropping sections or days of distribution. How does remaking the newspaper in these ways strengthen the core product in the long run?
In most cases it is short-term thinking to pare costs. I believe that printing some days may be a viable answer, but it’s happening for all the wrong reasons. I think more newspapers ought to be asking where are the holes in my media market and how can I fill them? And, they should be asking if we make certain moves in this market like publishing three times a week, what are the counter moves I can expect. I am going to be stunned if a competitor does not put a Sunday-Monday sports product into Detroit. The Detroit papers should do that before a competitor does.
4) Who is the audience the core product is aiming at now, in terms of readers and advertisers? Who should it be aiming at?
I believe too many core products are aiming at all people. Too much time money and energy has been wasted chasing young readers with the print product. We should get practical and realize the print product needs to be targeted 35-80. Ride that market down as you develop truly innovative web and electronic products for younger readers. We clearly have two audiences. It is time we treat both with equal respect rather than chase the other with the wrong vehicle. This approach would allow us to be nimble if a device appears that connects the two audiences again. That could happen.
5) In the past, reinventing the core product might have been seen as just redesigning the look of the paper. Is that still part of it? What else needs to be done?
Again, that would lead to only incremental change. Print publishers need to totally rethink what they are doing you are doing and adopt a process like this. There are many others, but you need a process.. A) Decide on a business model: Do I want to deliver eyeballs to customers or do I want to entice customers to pay for the product, or do I want a combination of the two. How do I support the news gathering I want to do? B) Determine my market. Is this a mass endeavor or it is targeted? What are the information opportunities for that market? C) What is my role in the democratic process? If you want one go for it. If you want to be all Britney, all the time, chuck the democracy façade. C) What are the market’s information needs and potentials? D) Develop a value proposition that adds value to commodity information. What is it that we can do for our market that nobody else can and how valuable will that be to the market? If it is a commodity product I can’t charge much. If it is truly special and distinguishable, the value of my product is greater. That will differentiate us from competitors and make us indispensable to readers E) Invent a new product that is not tied to yesterday but is tied to serving your market or community, create and add value that meets the market’s needs.
If you totally disconnect from yesterday a process like that should produce a new product that meets audience needs and business needs.
6) In a Web-first, print-second world, what role does the core product play? What is its relation to other products?
As I said before the web and print products must serve totally different audiences. Your web product is for younger readers and is the core of your long-term future. Your print product serves a still large audience that will die over the next 25 years. Do not chase one audience with the wrong product.
7) How can be the core product be reinvented or redesigned for greater synergy with online efforts?
Implicit in that question is a belief that the audiences are going to cross over. I don’t agree with that premise. Newspapers right now are trying desperately to hold on to the mass by forcing those two audiences together. I do not think it is going to work.
8) What’s the biggest obstacle in the way of reinventing the core product, and how do you remove (or at least lessen) it?
The biggest obstacle is this desire to create one product for all people. Those days are dead and too few publishers are willing to let go of that idea.
9) What will the core product look like in two, five and 10 years?
It depends on whether we make the right audience choice. If we design a value-added product for people who want to read a newspaper. It will focus on political news, sense-making, story-telling and “holy smokes Mabel stories” that high-end newspaper reader’s desire most.