While some well-diversified media companies are prepared for the long run of news' transition into a more electronic future, 2009 is shaping up to be the year in which the newspaper industry begins to face either massive restructuring or widespread collapse. Yet there is hope for traditional providers of news - if they can put their best efforts behind the most profitable opportunities. Here are a few thoughts as to where traditionally print-oriented news organizations must be headed in 2009 to build a more profitable future:
- Get better than bloggers and search engines at aggregating news. Mainstream journalists are still equipped oftentimes with the personal networks that enable them to deliver breaking news effectively, but nobody trusts any single news organization as their source for news. Instead, many online news users are turning to bloggers, search engines and messaging services such as Twitter to aggregate breaking news on the topics that matter most to them. In other words, while referral links are highly valuable for people who bother to engage full-length news stories, the sites that provide them are the "go-to" stops for a rapidly growing number of news hounds. Getting breaking news to appear more automatically in these other venues - and to have revenue-producing ads and partnership "hooks" in that remote content - is a key factor for making the most of these aggregators. However, it also points to the lingering question: why aren't more mainstream news organizations aggregating more links from other sources in their own core news coverage? I would agree that automated aggregation services like Sphere are of limited value in this regard, but the source-agnostic form of editorial content aggregation favored by bloggers and outlets such as the Huffington Post and Newser appear to be enabling far more engagement for online audiences than "not invented here" news organizations that still insist that their own teams must create most every drop of news that they monetize.
- Love print as a service, not as your brand. In the nineteenth century newspapers grew up in buildings that housed their editorial staffs, printing presses and loading docks - self-contained factories very much in the model of that era's mass manufacturing. In the twentieth century printing presses in many markets moved away to remote locations but most still produced newsprint products only for one source of editorial content and ads. In an era in which news can be aggregated effectively by anyone, that model is no longer a cost-effective approach to print production. Print will continue to thrive as a reading format for some time, but it's far less likely that printing presses are going to be running news and ads from only one source. It's far more likely that new types of newspapers are going to be with us very shortly, ones which license news from today's newspaper staffs and other news sources and share revenues and links to online materials via Data Matrix codes and other print-to-online linking technologies. Individual news organizations are not likely to invest enough in these new kinds of source-agnostic aggregation technologies fast enough to make a difference to their bottom lines, so suffering news organizations would be smart to band together to make such technologies happen sooner rather than later. Alternatively, the time for a "Google Newspapers" printing plant in major markets that aggregates content from many sources agnostically may have come at long last.
- Enable community-generated news more effectively. Small-market newspapers and television cable news outlets have become fairly aggressive in embracing their audiences as sources of news and entertainment. Yet major newspaper chains in many markets are still struggling to get their hands around what it means to empower everyday people as news producers. Social media provides some of the most engaging content online today, yet many publishers still shy away from empowering local news gatherers that do not conform to traditional models of journalism. But many sources of community-generated content - sports scores, traffic reports, eyewitness news - are highly engaging sources of content that can be monetized easily. In an era of real-time broadcast news alerts from anyone on services such as Twitter newspapers need to rethink what's the best way to engage a community that already knows how to publish to one another.