After a yo-yo of hope and no hope below, now we move to the only discussion that really matters: What to do about it. Edward Roussel, head of digital at the Telegraph in London, writes an inspired essay telling newspapers what they should do – if it isn’t too late.
The best approach for battle-weary media executives may be to let the fire run its course—however counterintuitive that might seem. That’s partly because there is little the newspaper industry can do to stop the advancing flames. But it’s also because today’s obsession with saving newspapers has meant that, for the most part, media companies have failed to plan adequately for tomorrow’s digital future. The economic downturn has added to the urgent need for a change of direction….
He makes 10 strong suggestions (my links added):
1. Narrow the focus. “…[M]edia companies need to invest more money in their premium content—editorial that is unavailable elsewhere but that is highly valued by readers. Go deep, not wide.”
2. Plug into a network. “…Media companies will increasingly see themselves as part of a chain of content, as opposed to a final destination. Journalists will act as filters, writing with authority but also guiding readers to sources that add depth to coverage. The future of journalism is selling expertise, not content.”
3. Rolling news with views. “Newspaper deadlines suit publishers, not readers. News is a continuum…. It’s not simply about serving breaking news—the AP and Reuters can handle that. The role of a newspaper company on the Web is to add value: look at a story from a number of angles, engage your audience, add multimedia.
4. Engage with your readers. “The explosion of blogging and social media Web sites has created a culture in which consumers of news expect to be included in the news publishing process….”
5. Bottom up, not top down. “The reporters on the ground are closest to your readers. They are therefore best placed to conceive, create and nurture community Web sites….”
6. Embrace multimedia. “Train editors to see video, photo galleries, graphics and maps as equal storytelling forms to text….”
7. Nimble, low-cost structures. “About 75 percent of newspaper costs have nothing to do with the creation of editorial content…. Newspaper companies are bad at technology, so a digitally minded chief technology officer will be able to get cheaper and more effective services by outsourcing. Newspaper sales teams don’t do particularly well at selling ads on the Internet; too often they sell ads that are irrelevant to a reader’s interests in an era when Google has made relevance key. If your sales team can’t beat Google, then outsource to Google.”
8. Invest in the Web. “Don’t try to suck too much revenue from your fledgling network. Your Web site needs investment before it can fly… A Web revenue-growth model cannot simply be a mirror image of the decline in your newspaper sales.”
9. Shake up leadership. “…If the people who run your newsroom aren’t passionate about your digital future, it’s certain not to materialize.”
10. Experiment. “…Don’t be afraid of failure. Try new projects, see what works, and build on success.”