Market Forces and Newspapers: Tough Times Can Breed Innovation

Over at the Think Tank, Blake’s thinking about newspapers again. And so am I. I’ve got many close friends who work on the general circulation, daily newspaper side of the publishing business, and it ain’t pretty. Many of them simply don’t know how long they will keep their jobs.

In his post, Blake notes the many (including Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page Editor* Paul Greenberg) who think newspapers and the arts deserve their own kind of government bailout, which I find darkly funny. Consider the concessions Congress was demanding from the unions when the auto bailout was being kicked around earlier this month, then imagine what politicians might require of us inky wretches in order to prop up our own failing business model. Scary.

In lieu of a bailout, Blake sees the future of newspapers depending on free-market forces or, perhaps, a nonprofit business model.

Blake thinks relying on the former might result in the loss of community journalism — that we would lose the local reporting and news coverage that we readers won’t miss until it’s gone.

But of the latter, I say: Check out NPR. A nonprofit model hasn’t kept the beloved radio news network from laying off dozens of people and canceling shows during this bitter economic winter. Taking the profits off the table is certainly not without its charms, but I doubt it’s very realistic given the costs of solid newsgathering and reportage, no matter the medium.

No, I think an advertiser-supported solution remains the best option for news organizations migrating to the Web. I don’t doubt the transition will be difficult and that we might indeed endure a period of lost local news coverage. But I also believe market forces might hone the online newsgathering business model into something leaner and more reader-focused than the current model behind newspaper publishing.

(Check out the average general circulation daily newspaper, and really think about the content. You’ll be amazed at the things newspapers still do simply because that’s how it’s always been done. I think tough times often breed the best in innovation.)

I also see sites springing up like former Times-Record/Morning News business editor Michael Tilley’s CityWire, Scott Miller’s Argenta News and Dogtown Wire, and Dustin Bartholomew’s and Todd Gill’s Fayetteville Flyer — all online-only local news Web sites that have popped up as newspapers across the country trim pages and personnel. They are all intensely local, delivering news a local audience cares about in a way that’s relevant to a new generation of readers. And guess what? They’ve got advertisers.

Admittedly, these sites have a long way to go to fill the news void their print counterparts might leave behind. But it’s a step in the right direction. And as I’ve noted before, we’re likely to see more of these endeavors as newspaper layoffs continue, each focusing on their own niche.

More

Commenters weigh in on Blake’s post at the Arkansas Blog

(* Not THAT Paul Greenberg. And it’s ONLY satire. My apologies to readers, and my thanks to John Brummett for pointing out my utter incompetence!)

As 2008 Draws to a Close, A Look at the Year’s Top Stories

Arkansas Business published its round-up of the year’s top 10 business news stories (you can see the complete list here), and how the Associated Press here in Arkansas has come out with its top 10 of 2008.

Read the full AP story here. The full list, in short, is:

1. Bad weather rakes the state.

2. Arkansas Democratic Party chairman Bill Gwatney dies in a shooting at the party’s headquarters …

3. Anne Pressly, a morning anchorwoman for Little Rock ABC affiliate KATV, dies after a brutal attack at her home …

4. Arkansas voters pass a constitutional amendment allowing for a state-run lottery …

5. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee becomes the last Republican standing in the long presidential primary …

6. Evangelist Tony Alamo faces charges he took young girls across state lines for sex …

7. Arkansas’ natural gas reserves keep the state’s economy afloat as lawmakers increase the severance tax …

8. The Green Party wins its first-ever legislative seat as voters supported new adoption and foster parenting ban.

9. Verizon Wireless buys Alltel Corp. for $5.9 billion and assumes $22.2 billion of the Little Rock-based carrier’s debt …

10. The University of Central Arkansas becomes embroiled in criticism over its scholarships program and a bonus paid to President Lu Hardin …

You’ll note some overlap between Arkansas Business’ top 10 and the AP’s list.

In all, I think everyone’s glad 2008 is quickly coming to end. Despite one historic election, it’s been a year most of us will love to forget.

More on 2008’s Big Stories

Bill Gwatney

Anne Pressly

Verizon-Alltel Merger

UCA & Lu Hardin

Merry Christmas!

Lane sends holiday greetings

Lane sends holiday greetings

Above, my nephew Lane handing out gifts on Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

BusinessWeek Editor: The Truths of Our Business

BusinessWeek Executive Editor John Byrne (follow him on Twitter here) writes this week for the Neiman Foundation’s Watchdog Web site. In his essay, he talks about the challenges new media present and how his news organization is working to confront them. He also notes that as bad as the current environment is for newspapers, it might be even worse for magazines.

Byrne also lays out the new principles that are guiding the business of online news. It’s a must-read for anyone in the business:

•   Context is as important today as content. It may, in fact, be the new king on the throne. That’s because the world is evolving into niche communities, organized around individual interests and passions. Keeping your audience deeply engaged in the journalism you do is necessary to induce loyalty to your brand.

•   We live in a world in which there are far too many stories chasing far too few eyeballs. What readers need in this environment is often help in organizing, sorting and sifting through all the articles.

•   Consumers prefer multiple sources of news and consult 16 to 18 media brands a week. That’s according to a McKinsey & Company study.

•   Creating more journalism isn’t necessarily the way you win online. It’s costly, and the gains in audience from putting up more stories are by and large incremental.

•   The smart and elegant organization of content through links and editorial curation has as much, if not more, value than simply publishing more of your own articles on the Web.

I’m not entirely sure I agree with the part about how “creating more journalism isn’t necessarily the way you win online,” but I think I know what he’s talking about.

Creating journalism is certainly important, but there are other iniatives that must be in place to support it, and I don’t just mean advertising. For example, sites have to be built properly, and content must be syndicated and optimized for search engines in just the right way, among others.

What do you think? Is Byrne on the right track?

Byrne’s complete essay is here.

Brummett, Blogging

Happening now

Happening now

More here.

The Crawl, R.I.P.

Before & After. The crawl is no more

Before & After. The crawl is no more

CNN kills the Crawl, one of the many millions of bad things to come out of 9/11. Here’s hoping the lemmings at Fox and MSNBC follow suit and kill their versions soon.

(Photo from the New York Times.)

Dan Jacobson, Publisher of the Year?

Maybe Dan Jacobson, publisher and owner of the TriCityNews of Monmouth County, N.J., should be Editor & Publisher’s “publisher of the year.” The 10,000-circ. community newspaper just published its biggest issue, is “double-digit profitable” and it has been growing at about 10 percent a year since it was founded in 1999.

And it’s doing it without any Web presence to speak of.

Check it the paper’s Web page, such as it is. Jacobson’s philosophy about the Web makes Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Publisher, and former E&P publisher of the year, Walter Hussman look like Jeff Jarvis, for crying out loud:

“Why would I put anything on the Web?” asked Dan Jacobson, the publisher and owner of the newspaper. “I don’t understand how putting content on the Web would do anything but help destroy our paper. Why should we give our readers any incentive whatsoever to not look at our content along with our advertisements, a large number of which are beautiful and cheap full-page ads?”

No doubt publishing execs from Fortune to Conde Nast would look at Jacobson’s situation with envy.

But Mark Potts’ Recovering Journalist blog says the takeaway from Jacobson’s story shouldn’t be that having no Web strategy is the best strategy for print success.

Carr and Jacobson have jumped to the wrong conclusion about what makes the TriCityNews a success. Indeed, many small community papers, with and without Web sites, are doing just fine, and will continue to do so even as larger newspapers founder.

That has nothing to do with print, or the Web. It has everything to do with the fact that these little papers cover their communities closely–and have little or no competition in doing so. Web or not, their readers have almost no place else to go.

So contrary to what Carr and Donaldson believe, the secret to the TriCityNews’ success probably isn’t that it fiercely eschews the Web. It’s that it’s fiercely local.

So, good for the TriCityNews. They are doing very well doing the one thing all publishers should strive for, no matter the platform: serving readers and advertisers with a one-of-a-kind product that’s relevant and valuable.

But the method remains shortsighted. What happens when a new generation of readers, raised on the Web, come up eschewing inky, wasteful print, and the TriCityNews doesn’t reach them?

More on the TriCityNews here, and more from Potts here.