Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Local newspapers, blogs and the future

IN today's hyper communicative environment many blogs are like a bowl of popcorn compared with a full restaurant meal.
The idea of blogs and websites that use "crowdsourcing" assumes that eyewitnesses are the best reporters (this is not the case), and that participation is a given from a 'vibrant community' of readers. Sorry, but that's a mistaken assumption. It has been consistently shown that only about 5% to 7% of all readers of any publication (online or in print) will ever send in a letter, newstip or other contribution. Among those, how many have an axe to grind or are otherwise biased? How many of them can provide a photograph better than a snapshot or a video from something more than a cellphone?
The quality of a photograph or video or story matter, precisely because they tell the story better, more succinctly.

Professional journalists don't waste your time
Professional journalists perform a very valuable function in a democratic society. They sift through the information and, when they are good, provide as unbiased a view as possible. That's the job.
Instead of 3000 words about a community council meeting that was 'live blogged' with updates every 7 minutes wouldn't you honestly prefer 300 words that tell you what happened and what was decided?
Do you seriously want to simply be referred to a series of links where you must delve deeply into issues spending hours of time to glean the facts?

Print vs Online Advertising
Newspapers and websites both sell and display advertising. But a website ad is only worth about 10% of what an ad is worth in print.
This is so because print advertising actually WORKS.
You can say more, show more and it is often seen multiple times in the same home or family and kept around. Weekly newspapers have staying power.
Online advertising is often simply ignored, especially small square ads with annoying animation or no useful value driven offer. Worse, some ads appear virtually on their own, adjacent to nothing or so crowded into the tiny space on the edge of a web page that their message is lost. Online ads have their place certainly and can help brand a business but simply showing a logo is not the best way for a business to drive traffic to their store. Online ads are almost always quite small so for that reason alone they can't tell you much. How often do YOU click on an online ad?

Things change and so do people
While it is true that the cost of producing a news product on paper points to a diminishing return, an economic model will emerge that allows good papers to continue to publish over time, as enlightened readers grow weary of the information bombing presented by the blog, and twitter formats and embrace a more measured, thoughtful presentation of what is going on around them.
Real life has a way of asserting itself and people often come to realizations that their time is worth something.

Past is prologue
There are those in the blogging world and those otherwise enamored of online communication for whom newspapers can't die soon enough.
They point to the ability of the internet to deliver news almost instantly (have they heard of radio?), and provide a framework of interaction that allows the audience to become part of the newsgathering process.
This is purported to be 'better' than the 'biased' approach of a seasoned trained journalist who with some experience and judgement sifts through what is often largely unimportant information to deliver a concise report on what matters. There are pluses and minuses to this of course but what many of those who look at newspapers and their current dilemma fail to understand is that there are significant differences between these models of information as well as the potential effectiveness of the advertising the supposedly supports them both.
Predictions about the demise of many things in the past often did not come true. Television did not replace radio, and even in an age of digital downloads, believe it or not vinyl records are seeing a significant resurgence. This is not to say everything will remain the same but people love newspapers for very good reasons. Those reasons will still be why they love them for some time.

Reports of our death are greatly exaggerated
Some daily newspapers whose content is largely duplicated by other media WILL go away. That's clear.
But community newspapers are NOT going to be replaced by neighborhood blogs and are doing quite well though in an economic downturn some evolution is necessary for all media. In the weeks ahead you will see this newspaper change page size for example and we are re-launching our website to bring you more information and provide greater interaction. We think you will like it a lot.
We want to assure you that THIS newspaper is stable and devoted to the community and plans to be publishing in print and online for a long time to come.
We thank you for your readership and the support of our advertisers.
It's our honor and privilege to serve you.

Source: TheWestSeattleHerald.com

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