Nobody here but us chickens

Scott Anderson, a newspaper online exec at Tribune Co., writes an honest, sad, and true post at his blog, Online News Squared, about community and newspapers. Quoted in entirety:

A little compare and contrast about the NYC transit strike gets us quickly to the heart of a serious problem that faces newspaper.coms.

Visit here, our friend Mr. Newmark’s storied List. Feel your clicking finger go tingly as you navigate through page after page after page of people offering rides or looking for rides into and out of New York.

Now, visit here, the Ride Share board on Newsday.com, (part of Mama Tribune’s happy family). Feel how it’s about as lonely and forlorn as a subway platform during the strike.

Sigh.

Yet another crisis and Craigslist commands the community. Newspaper.coms command . . . Well, not the community.

Squared isn’t at all picking on his colleagues at Newsday; in fact, he’s very proud that they put the rideshare board into play. It’s just frustrating that even when we TRY, we more often than not find we are absolutely losing what may be one of the most important parts of the business as it more and more moves online — the ability to connect people to one another and to activate conversations. To not just be the deliverer of news and information with glitzy bells and whistles and more related content than you could shake a latte stirrer at, but the catalyst of connection.

How is it that a decade deep into the online news business that isn’t our franchise? Are we only about news, not about the people who consume the news? How come Craig organically can touch lives on so many personal levels — and Craig’s users can touch each other’s lives on so many levels? Connecting buyers and sellers. Connecting employers and employees. Connecting single men and women and combinations thereof. Connecting old friends. Connecting people who need a ride.

Nobody should know its community better than a newspaper.com. A community, to connect within itself, should need to turn to nobody but a newspaper.com. A decade in, we’ve mastered only the disconnect.

And I think the reason is clear and simple: It’s about control. My first law of media and life: Give the people control and they will use it. Don’t, and you will lose them.

Craig created a tool and stood back and, as I now quote him in every PowerPoint to which I subject people, followed one simple rule: “Get out of the way.” He handed over control.

Newspapers are allergic to that idea; they have defined themselves by their control: They report, they confirm, they edit, they package, they product, they distribute. We read. Oh, they’re trying to hand over more control. I was proud at Advance that, thanks to the insistence of our boss, we created forums where everyone had their say. But truth be told, that may have been ahead of other newspaper companies but that wasn’t saying much. The people couldn’t create their own forums, package their own news, use the site to congregate and conspire.

It’s a hard lesson to learn and I still learn it every day. I was working with some folks on a project and we had a light-bulb-over-the-head moment about handing over control. I spoke with a journalist I respect the other day about media today and we had to remind ourselves that the people package news now and don’t wait for us to.

The truth is that newspapapers have to recognize is that the people already have control. What can they do about that?

  • Pingback: everybuddy.org » Can Media companies “get out of the way”

  • http://www.wingercomics.com/ Carson Fire

    “Nobody should know its community better than a newspaper.com.”

    Heh… that’s funny. Elites may serve a community, they may lecture the community, they may believe they know what’s best for a community, but they don’t *know* the community.

    This attitude isn’t just something that can be corrected by short-term education or remonstration, it’s deeply ingrained in journalistic psyche.

    On a lark, I picked up a book this week by a journalist/author who travelled with some of the Democratic caravans during the ’04 primary season. Writing for a more elite audience, without the safeties on, it’s amazing to see the constant insults hurled at the “community”: hicks, idiots, etc.

    Too much of journalism does not respect the community, so the community is not going to reward them by conferring unearned favoritism, allowing them to succeed by default at things which used to be their monopoly. I don’t think even “getting it” will help at this point, unlikely as that is.

  • pennywit

    A couple miscellaneous thoughts.

    I’ve poked through some of the WashingtonPost.com news boards, and they seem to jump pretty well. Of course, the Post has also made an effort at such things, for several years now.

    Second, why hasn’t some media honcho tried to negotiate a licensing or cross-content deal with Craig’s List?

    –|PW|–

  • Andy Freeman

    > Second, why hasn’t some media honcho tried to negotiate a licensing or cross-content deal with Craig’s List?

    What do they have to offer that he wants?

  • http://www.gapingvoid.com hugh macleod

    And… now that we have control, why should we pay your salary?

    It is by control that these journalists (most of whom I meet are good, smart, hardworking people) make their living.

    No control = No commerce.

    The only thing keeping newspaspers in business is advertisers value their readers’ eyeballs higher than blog readers’ eyeballs. As soon as that changes (if and when), look out, Newspapers.

  • Pingback: The Digital Gangster « Tomseymour’s Weblog

  • Pingback: Be Your own PD « The ConverStation