Here’s An Idea: Newspapers Should Focus on Compelling Online Content

We heard this idea yesterday. Now Playboy Editor-in-Chief Christie Hefner shares her thoughts on the newspaper crisis with Conde Nast’s Portfolio business magazine. Here’s her suggestions for what newspapers should be doing to deal with the online transition:

… rather than seemingly focusing on cost-cutting their way out of their problems, perhaps newspaper owners should be focused on first, how to make their online content and the online experience on their sites as compelling as possible, including (buckle your seat belts here!) marketing their sites; second, how to consider offering some of that content or some of those experiences in a disaggregated (i.e., not needing a subscription) manner with simple à la carte pricing–the iTunes model; and finally, how to educate advertisers about how to effectively deploy their online budgets, and why consumers online are worth a lot more than advertisers think.

This, to me, sounds like a breath of fresh air. It does, however, assume that newspapers, when moving online, will attempt to retain a similar sort of advertiser-driven business model they built their empires on in print.

But since everyone’s still searching for a better online news business model, let’s consider this one as a possible way to go.

More after the jump.

It should be a given that compelling content is absolutely key to crafting a must-visit news site that sets itself apart from the millions upon billions of other URLs out there. As professional news providers, newspapers have an invaluable role on the Web and in society. Ted Rall cited this quote in his piece noted here yesterday:

Nearly all reporting–I would guess at least 80 percent–is done by newspapers and the wire services. Take that away and we have a huge black hole.

Here, here. So crafting and presenting that news reporting in a compelling way online – which means making it possible for everyone else to link to and share your content and in as many ways possible – only strengthens your brand as a news provider as that content reverberates throughout the Internet.

Of course, some newspapers, niche publishers and other news organizations are building exciting, engaging and informative news sites. So we know it can be done. But paying for it is the key.

Which is why Hefner’s final point is so crucial. Publishers and their sales forces must work harder to show advertisers “why consumers online are worth a lot more” than they think so that publishers can price those online ad buys accordingly.

There’s many things about Web advertising that I think it more valuable than print. Advertisers can track results better, knowing more accurately who’s clicking/seeing what where. They can more accurately target your message to a specific group. They can also deploy more powerful creatives, incorporating all manner of multimedia messages and strategies. And at the end of it all, advertisers can draw customers directly to their Web sites with a single link.

Until online advertising is priced right, newspapers will continue to have a tough time finding their way online with the comparable quality they’ve supported in print. It’s a simple idea, but have many news organizations really taken a step in that direction?

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2 Responses

  1. Content is… I just can’t bring myself to say it.

    This is what I value most about newspaper stories/columns: they have earned general trust over years by adhering to strict guidelines of accountability. Anomalies aside, when I read something from a newspaper on/offline the baseline of trust that I have in the content is at a higher level, significantly higher level, than from other sources. I don’t care if my newspaper brought me the story faster than anyone else, I care that the news is as authoritative and accurate as can be.

    Give me insight and accuracy, newsman, and I’m happy.

    As far as the pricing for Ads goes, that’s going to me out of line until Advertisers come to grips with proper metrics. Speaking from one Agency man’s point of view, judging solely by clicks or impressions is folly. I value impressions more than clicks, but measuring contextual engagement is a more appropriate measurement goal.

  2. Well said, Bryan. I agree on both counts, particularly the former, since I’m a content guy.

    Newspapers, in moving to the Web or whatever other medium convergence affords them, have make it top priority to bring with them that reputation of accountability, accuracy and trustworthiness that sets them apart.

    Speaking to what Hefner said, it takes a solid editorial staff to deliver that reputation. And by trimming those staffs in a slash-and-burn effort to survive, newspapers laying the groundwork for an unnecessary demise.

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