Category Archives: Newsrooms
The year was 2005, and the scene was a meeting of the Newspaper Next Industry Task Force — some of the best and most innovative minds in the newspaper business.
In midstream, the brilliant and irascible Lincoln Millstein, then head of digital for the Hearst newspaper group, threw down this challenge (not his exact words, but my best recollection):
“You can’t name any other business that would leave a manager in charge of a product whose sales have fallen every year for the last 30 years!”
He rammed home the point: Newspaper circulation had been falling steadily for decades, and yet newspaper companies had left the same kinds of people in charge of content, doing the same old stuff. When were we going to get serious about changing the content to produce better results?
Amen, Lincoln. I’ve never forgotten your point. It’s as deadly accurate today as it was 12 years ago — and the results keep getting worse.
In this blog, for five years, I’ve written repeatedly about why and how our our content needs to change. We keep acting out that old cliche about insanity — doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.
This time, instead of trying to come up with yet another way to say it, I will point back to 13 of my previous posts. Or should I say, 13 previous attempts to open this industry’s eyes to the desperate need for change in content.
Rethinking the mission and purpose of local reporting
“So we need to start with a different question. Not, “How do we fund journalism?” but “What is the content that local people really want and need?”
“And that points me back to the core purpose of local reporting. It’s not “doing journalism.” It’s providing information every day that meets genuinely felt needs among the people who live in our communities.
“Our purpose should be to figure out what those needs are and go get that information.”
The hardest part of saving news: Changing the definition
The tiny share of web traffic we’re getting with news, what Millennials consider to be news, and a metrics approach that can lead us to more successful content.
Millennials, news and the Borneo effect
How the explosion in available content has reduced the demand for news. With a parable from a friend’s experience in the jungles of Borneo: If you grew up with an infinite supply of every kind of food, how much rice would you eat?
Millennials grew up with access to every kind of information; no wonder they don’t consume a lot of news. And what we should do about it.
The audience game is forever changed; will we change, too?
“The stats (presented here) show that we’re losing the audience game in a big way. So we need to do some hard thinking about which audiences in local markets have the most value and therefore are most worth pursuing.
“Home buyers? Car buyers? Job seekers? Finance, insurance and mortgage customers? What else? Then we need to set appropriate priorities among the most promising target groups and figure which solutions will work best for each of them.”
Media business model: Are you running the Scotch Tape store?
How an old Saturday Night Live sketch about the Scotch Tape store at the old mall parodies our business’s relentless concentration on news.
And how, at the “new mall” — the Web — “you can find content directly relating to every big and little interest and concern in your life. You can get content that’s immediately useful in what you’re doing or about to do. Content that’s suited to exactly who you are, to what your life situation is, to what you care about, to what makes you laugh, to what you are considering doing right now. And, with a smartphone in your hand, you can get all of this in seconds, anywhere you are.”
Why the definition of news must change in the digital age
To understand the new landscape, every news person should take up a challenge from magazine blogger Andrew Davis, who said:
I challenge you to put yourself in the shoes of your primary audience. Spend the day consuming the content they consume, visiting the websites they visit. Then, ask yourself what you could do to make your print product more valuable given the experience you’ve just encountered.“
And not just print, of course. We’re a local information franchise, print and digital. To get back to success, we need to start over by understanding the appetites that are driving our desired audiences today.
The big picture: Mass media era was the blink of an eye
Excerpt: “Let’s put it in individual human terms. For 200,000 years, you could get hardly any information about anything. For 150 years, you could get whatever someone decided to print or broadcast. And now, from about the year 2000 on, you can get just about any information you want, from just about any source, wherever you happen to be.”
Excerpt: “On a planet where everyone can get virtually any information, what new models can we discover for engaging their attention, for being indispensable, for supplying information they aren’t willing to live without? And how can we help businesses take advantage of the vast new range of audience-reaching channels and technologies — whether we own them or not — that are penetrating every waking moment of human consciousness? And get paid for it?”
Desperately needed: More innovation on the audience side
A visual rendering of the change in our world that’s destroying our old, keyhole-based business model.
Everyday goal for media companies: Be the greatest show on earth
Now that we’re in competition with all the information available on the planet, we have to win our audiences every day by the value of what we offer them. So the job of the publisher, the editor and the VP of content/audience (if there is one) needs to be: Produce content throughout the day — every day — that no one can live without.
Seven kinds of “new news” for the 21st century
A deeper description of the seven kinds of content that would draw audience like crazy in any local market.
Part 1: The Mass Media bubble
My first explanation of the paradigm-shattering concept of “The Infinite Pipe.” This is one of three foundational posts from which virtually every other post in my five years of blogging is derived.
“The Infinite Pipe” — the history of human access to information over 200,000 years — reveals what’s happening to the entire mass-media business today, and why.
Part II — The end of the Mass Media era
What happens when information goes from limited to infinite? Five basic changes that are swamping the mass media businesses in a tsunami far larger than we can imagine.
Part III — What about news?
In this post, five years ago, I threw down the gauntlet for the first time:
“So it’s time for a fundamental awakening in local media businesses. We need to stop thinking of our communities as places where news happens and we report it. We need to start thinking of our communities as places where people lead their lives and we help them do it. We need to figure how to provide solutions they will regard as essential in their own lives and will use over and over every day. News has its place in this, but it’s a far bigger assignment than news.”
Folks, the game isn’t over. But we will continue to lose if we don’t wake up to the fact that we are responsible for producing content that works in today’s information systems, for people who are living today’s lives.
It’s change or die.
Most Americans would agree that our country is more fiercely divided along political lines today — Democrat/Republican and liberal/conservative — than ever before in our lives.
Through the last two or three presidential elections, this divide seems to have become more and more bitter. In the 2016 race, it reached a fever pitch, which has shown no sign of abating since the election of Donald Trump.
Powerful local advocacy is essential to your news brand
As the relentless decline in ad revenues empties more and more newsroom desks, there’s been a little-noted side effect: Waning commitment to locally written editorials.
Nobody seems to be noticing, and that’s a shame. In this and probably a future post, I intend to make the case for strong local opinion-writing as a key element of community journalism.
In the local media business, we like to think that our brand has immense value. I believe the thoughtfulness and impact of our editorials plays a huge part in creating that value. Read the rest of this entry
Last time I blogged about a fairly simple but powerful “Big J” journalism project we did years ago in my hometown, shaking up the judicial system in a very positive way.
Here’s another “Big J” project we did back then. It can be done in any community, and it will reveal very interesting things about who has and wields power in the community. Read further to learn how, and to see clippings of the stories we produced.
It started in 1992, when I was editor of my family’s newspaper in Monroe, Mich. At the time, I was doing some serious thinking about the local power structure. Read the rest of this entry
It’s an article of faith in the local media business: High-quality content is our trump card in the high-stakes business of attracting and monetizing digital audiences.
But how much of that high-quality content do we really produce? And how much of it really has the huge audience pulling-power we need?
It’s the same answer for both questions: Not nearly enough. Read the rest of this entry
How do you define the mission and purpose of local reporting?
Cover the news? Hold institutions accountable? Maintain a well-informed citizenry? Hold up a mirror to the community? “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?”
Search around the Web for statements of journalism’s purpose and you’ll find all of the above, and more like them.
And there’s a lot of anxiety these days about the present and future of this mission. With local advertising and circulation revenues spiraling steadily downward, and with newsrooms shrinking along a parallel line, two things are evident. Whatever the mission of local reporting is:
- A lot less of it is happening now.
- Even less will be happening in the future.
In many places in this business, the central question these days is: How can we drive revenue from new sources, so we can keep supporting the functions of journalism that are critical to a free society?
To an extent, I buy that. But there’s also something seriously misguided about it. Read the rest of this entry
Lots of people understand that the traditional business model around news is breaking down. Far fewer realize it’s not just the business part — advertising — that’s broken. It’s also news itself.
Why is this so hard to understand?
A planet full of people is going from a daily diet of a newspaper and a couple of news broadcasts to constant access to almost everything there is to know. Inevitably, this is causing people today to want and expect different things from their time spent on content than people did 20 or 50 years ago.
But what we produce as news has hardly changed. Read the rest of this entry
It’s the Year of the Millennials, according to Pew. In 2015, at ages 18 to 34, they will surpass Baby Boomers in the U.S. to become the largest living generation. And a major new report by the Media Insight Project, just released at the NAA mediaXchange, sheds a lot of new light on their consumption of news.
The report (pdf, html) emphasizes the bright side, stressing the finding that most Millennials do value news and consume it regularly. But the most worrisome finding for newspaper companies is that they rarely go to traditional news providers to get it. We are far back in the loop, when we’re in it at all. Read the rest of this entry
- Figuring out how the business has to change.
- Changing behaviors in the organization to get the new things done.
As most people in the newspaper industry can testify, both of these are difficult and relentless. There’s no “one and done” in a disruption as massive as the digital revolution.
And, unfortunately, success at No. 1 is no guarantee of success at No. 2.
Over last three years, I’ve blogged frequently about No. 1. This time let’s look at No. 2. Read the rest of this entry
If you’re old enough to remember Saturday Night Live in its glory days, maybe you remember the hilarious sketches set in the Scotch Tape store at the old mall.
The bit was centered on, and got its laughs from, a ridiculously narrow business model centered on a single product, sold in a retail location that was no longer the cool place to be. (I’d love to link to a clip here, but I couldn’t find one. NBC must be closely guarding its copyright.)
Those sketches came to mind this week as I was trying to think of a metaphor for the newspaper business and its relentless concentration on news. News continues to be our industry’s central purpose and the heart of its business model for attracting audiences.
I laughed out loud when it occurred to me that we might be well on the way to becoming the Scotch Tape store, or “Scotch Boutique,” as they called it. But the idea is as painful as it is funny. Read the rest of this entry