Raise your hand if you’re tired of hearing about the slow, agonizing death of newspapers.
Sure, print is on the decline. But it’s still got a strong readership that happily pays for a subscription and ad performance is high. Digital still gives many publishers fits, but the kinks are slowly but surely being ironed out.
The future of newspapers isn’t bleak. We’re excited about the current possibilities and the developments yet to be discovered. And we think you should be excited, too.
Aggregators and Social Media Don’t Create the News
How many people get their news online? About four in ten, according to a 2016 report by Pew Research Center. But that doesn’t mean Google burns the midnight oil writing a Pulitzer prize-winning expose.
The Internet offers a host of options for getting news in digital form. But what people want doesn’t originate with Google, Yahoo, Facebook or Twitter. Those destinations are only points of access that guide readers to the real story.
Apple Products Review blog says Google doesn’t report and write, and neither does Yahoo News. They’re only aggregators.
Social media is great for shared, finding out what’s trending and talking about current events. But Twitter’s 140 characters aren’t enough to cover a full story. And while Facebook is courting publishers and trying to encourage original, social media-based content, it’s slow going.
People use aggregators and social media to find out what’s happening and get a snippet. They’re launch pads that lead to the source, which is the newspaper publisher. Digital won’t kill the news, aggregators and social media would face hard times without it.
Newspapers Really Do Understand the Internet
Do you think the news is doomed because it hasn’t figured out the Internet? You’re in good company. But you’re not exactly right. The problem isn’t a lack of understanding. It’s a lack of finding the right model for profitability and growth.
Take a look at one legacy media company and where you can find their presence online. The primary website is probably gorgeous. It’s probably user-friendly, too, for everyone who has access.
They’re no doubt on social media. Bigger newspapers have thriving Facebook and Twitter accounts. And many reporters have their own accounts, as well. They interact with readers and generally support the paper’s presence.
It’s not that newspapers haven’t figured out the Internet, it’s that they haven’t found revenue streams that don’t offend readers. Social media could help, if only there was a better way to use it. The American Journalism Review says “Social media isn’t optional, it’s mandatory.” But what good is all of that exposure if a paywall shoots up from a shared link?
Profits and how to keep them throw the monkey wrench in the delicate gears of the machine. Ad blockers are notorious now. Paywalls make no one happy.
Newspapers know the Internet. They understand how to build links, shares and a huge fan base online. So perhaps a source-based paywall model would be a better angle. That way, shares could be rewarded instead of hanging like a placeholder on social media that looks great but doesn’t drive people to the content.
Bloggers Aren’t Stealing Newspaper Thunder
Bloggers can build an audience and create a thriving community like nobody’s business. At least the successful ones can. But they aren’t a threat to newspapers. And they don’t often step out of the blogosphere to hit the streets as reporters. Live event blogging is an exception.
Legacy media provides the material inspiration for blogs brimming with posts and tens of thousands of readers. The majority of professional and amateur bloggers perform research online. Investigative reporting happens in front of a screen, not on the sidewalk.
The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2014’s Obsidian Finance Group v. Crystal Cox that bloggers are journalists. So technically, it’s true. But the decision primarily dealt with First Amendment rights protection for bloggers.
In reality, the majority of bloggers rely on original reporting that happens within the newspaper industry. Without newspapers, blogging would probably plummet. They’re not in competition, not unless roles begin to reverse.
Not-for-Profit Newspapers Help Strengthen News Integrity
There’s an all-out war on journalism integrity right now, which makes some wonder what the future has in store. But there is strength found in numbers. There’s also support in non-profit newspaper organizations.
Hardly anyone hasn’t heard the “fake news!” cry in recent months. The lines get blurrier as people passionately take sides over who, what, when, where and why something might, or might not, have happened. In the middle, journalists are taking the heat from all directions. Thankfully, there’s hope.
Non-profit newspapers are popping up throughout the U.S. Some traditional newspapers have already transitioned to a non-profit organization. And they’re famously smart, deep and honorable.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism managing editor, Rachel Oldroyd, wrote at Mousetrap Media‘s journalism.co.uk. that non-profit newsrooms have “a buzz, an enthusiasm that has long evaporated from many of the traditional print establishments.” And that’s because they’re free from some of the troubles that plague traditional newspapers, both digital and print.
Non-profit news doesn’t need ad revenue or paywalls to survive. Oldroyd believes that freedom from clickbait has, in part, led to numerous Pulitzer prizes. The quality of reporting and writing is that high. And that’s the shot in the arm that newspaper integrity desperately needs in such turbulent times.
A Whole New Crop of People Can Steer Digital Independently
One of the biggest problems with the news, at least as Matt DeRienzo for Editor and Publisher sees it, is that too many publishers try to drive digital news using a print mindset. It isn’t working.
It’s not a new conundrum, he explains. When TV arrived, the death of radio was predicted with a bit too much haste. TV, on the other hand, hardly knew what to do with itself in the early days.
Using radio as a cue, visual television ads were little more than radio ads read on camera. Later, with props. But eventually, they figured out the incredible possibilities in their hands.
To get digital running in the right direction without sacrificing loyal, paying print customers, DeRienzo says newspapers “might want to think about separating the print and digital businesses into distinct and separately managed operations.” That includes a different branding approach for print and digital.
In another article for Editor and Publisher, DeRienzo says talent is an issue. Not writing talent, but organizational talent.
A digital-first strategy needs “Entrepreneurs. Innovators. Platform-perfect digital practitioners.” Competition is fierce for that level of talent. Struggling newspapers might need to rethink the budget, as tech experts can often find a much better deal with a startup than a newspaper that just laid off 10 reporters and trimmed back the benefits package.
The recent presidential election sealed the fact that people have an insatiable appetite for news. It’s the delivery that’s still just a bit rocky. Audiences find news on social media, through email marketing and via news aggregators. They share it with friends, get frustrated about ads and paywalls, and pick up print copies or have them delivered.
People want to be informed. And that makes them news consumers. The job at hand is delivering value in an appealing format to the right audience at the right time.