I Heard an Interesting thing About Newspapers

I live in a city where my newspaper is in danger of being no longer. I can’t say I’ll miss the city newspaper because I haven’t subscribed to it in over 5-years. So what happened with me and the newspaper? Well, I ordered the Sunday newspaper only because getting the newspaper 7-days a week was too much for me to read and created too much trash for me to deal with. Unfortunately, the newspaper, obsessed with selling advertisements, ignored my desire and sent me the newspaper 7 times a week. I then canceled because my house became filled with newspapers I didn’t read. Our house and garage used to be littered with stacks of unread papers. It’s a fire hazard and they attract bugs and vermin that like to hide in the folds. I really only wanted the front page, the Sunday comics, and the Sunday coupons. The newspaper, actually didn’t stop coming, though, because my Dad signed up for the newspaper using the same phone number I did and the newspaper came to me instead of him. Hahaha!!! It was a frustrating experience. Needless to say, it got straightened out and I have been newspaper-free for years.

My problem with the newspapers is that they come on a ridiculous amount of paper. That’s why I turned to the Internet once it became a valid source. The newspapers are kicking themselves for not selling the news online at the start. The big problem though is hyper-linking. I heard some guy on KPBS’ “Editor’s Round Table” mention this, but I don’t think he completely grasped what he was saying. The problem is even if a newspaper charges people to access the news, there are ways to grab information and rebroadcast it that can’t stopped. Sure people can link to the information and then those that follow the link can pay whatever is charged to read the full article. But as a blogger, I have found myself cutting and pasting content from paid content because somewhere in the back of my mind the idea of the news being property is absurd — sorta like paying for flowers, unprepared food, water, air, and health care. (BTW: I have stopped cutting and pasting entire articles and I cleaned my blog to link the articles). I imagine most people feel this way, so it happens all the time. Anyhow, to sum it all up, because print is giving away to the internet, the newspapers can no longer control the distribution of their content.

The newspapers thought they could get money from online advertising, but online advertising works about as well as advertising anywhere else. People are saturated with advertising, so it no longer works to thrust ads at people outside of the Superbowl — and at that, we only watch the Superbowl ads because they are entertaining and not because we want to but what is being advertised. Not to say that Superbowl Ads are useless. They are quite useful for building brand love. But back to the discussion … So … now what? There are millions of unstoppable bloggers out there who will deliver their version of events for free (most bloggers are motivated by something else and have “daytime” jobs to pay the bills). They often pull from reputable news sources and add their own commentary. There are also the news sites from the major TV and cable networks that deliver the national news for free (they are buoyed by commercials from TV assets). Where is the place for the city newspaper? The one thing I’m sure about is that the future isn’t on paper. Paper is wasteful. But how do we get people to pay for the news while at the same time be able to share the news — in other words, how do news organization make money when they can’t control distribution? Well, when I think about selling something, I like to go back to the fundamentals and ask the newspapers, “what is it that you are selling to me?” And then I as a consumer look at the offer and decide whether it’s something I want to pay for.

The truth of the matter is that I’m not all that interested in my local news until something goes wrong. I can’t keep up with the ends and outs of the mayor’s and city council’s shenanigans. The messed up thing, though, is when something goes wrong and I expect there to be someone on the case keeping an eye on things. To be honest, I get most of my local news from local public radio that I don’t contribute donations to. My thought is this: People need to know the know the headlines to know whether there is something worth following up to get more information. That “something worth following up” has to be the thing to pay for. The question goes back to how to defeat the bloggers who can pay for the story and then relay it again in their own words and provide analysis for free? This is where the news organizations have to decide who their customer is. They could sell news stories to the bloggers and other news agencies like the AP news service or they could take on the bloggers by offering more compelling content. This would mean the newspaper would have to transform into multimedia Internet powerhouses with the creativity and passion to create news presentations that people will feel are worthy of paying for. It’s a tough sell, though, when most people just want the headlines. So in this case I think it’s better to sell the raw news to the bloggers and other news agencies that may have a loyal base and better customer relationships to know how to tailor the news to their followers. People will get general news and headlines from the major free sources they do now and special interest news from those with similar passion either for free or paid. The important thing is there needs to be someone recording and providing the raw news footage to those people who can produce the news.

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