WWGD with newspapers?

I LOVE this post by Amber Smith adapting the precepts of What Would Google Do? to newspapers.

As long as our industry evolves from newsPAPER to news ORGANIZATION, we’ll survive. And when you think about it, that should be easier for us to do than, say, turn “Dunkin’ Donuts” into a place for great coffee. If Jon Luther can position DD for the future, surely a bunch of passionate journalists can save our profession.

(Well, see the post below about coffee.)

Smith then proceeds to riff on the old and new ways of thinking in news organizations. A few snippets:

Old way of thinking: The newspaper was a product.
New way: News organizations provide a service.

Old way of thinking: Readers became known as “the audience” in the early days of the Internet, describing a one-way relationship wherein readers sat still to observe a performance.
New way: Readers/users are participatory.

Old way of thinking: Newspapers attempted to be all things to all people, serving a mass geographic audience.
New way: News organizations strive to serve a mass of niche communities that already exist, (some geographic, but most based on interests.)

Old way of thinking: Newspapers marketed themselves to a population.
New way: News organizations converse, engage and collaborate with the communities they serve; the population markets the news organization among itself.

Old way of thinking: Newspapers operated in a climate of “scarcity;” news space became tighter when ad sales diminished or the price of newsprint increased.
New way- News organizations have an abundance of space on line. . . .

Old way of thinking: Newspapers that embarked on the Web sought a place to distribute their content.
New way: News organizations see the internet as a 3-D space of reciprocal links. “Every link and every click is a connection, and with every connection, a network is born or grows stronger.” (p. 28) . . .

Old way of thinking: Editors were in charge, choosing which stories to provide to the readers/audience, based on what the editors thought the readers/audience wanted and needed to know.
New way: Readers are in charge. They read what they want, when they want.

Old way of thinking: Newspapers served each reader the same plate of information.
New way: Readers fill their plates with the things they like.

Old way of thinking: Editors decided which beats would be covered.|
New way: “Beats” are based on niche communities that already exist. . . .

Old way of thinking: Newspapers were hesitant to even mention competitors in the newspaper.
New way: News organizations do what they do best and link to the rest, as Jarvis says, and yes, that means even if the link leads to the competition.

Old way of thinking: Soon after the “nut graph” newspaper stories contained a paragraph(s) of background information.
New way: Articles on Web sites link to anything that’s relevant – background information, transcripts that back up interviews, photographs. “On line, content without links is the tree that falls in the forest that nobody hears.” (p. 124)

I could keep quoting and quoting but instead, I’ll urge you to go read her list in full and add your own.

Smith does this in a guest post in Gina Chen’s blog and Gina herself, a few days earlier, also adapted WWGD? to papers with advice on adding value and listening to readers.

We’re fighting for our lives here as an industry. We can’t afford to do anything that doesn’t add value, and figuring out what adds value must be tied to the reader. . .

We forget that we’re a service industry: We’re in the business of helping readers make sense of their world, not of selling them news. And like any business, if we aren’t responsive to our customers, we’ll die.

Another great post.

Somewhat related: See Jackie Hai on applying the precepts of the link economy to journalism schools.

  • Great post. In Germany it will take a few more years to get that.

  • Unfortunatley the entrenched nature of ‘old way thinkers’ still remains. The concept of ‘keeping’ people at your domain, rather than directing them to other sites that contain related and relevant content prevails.

    Great post!

  • I agree with what’s been said, but there’s an issue that I think is being overlooked. The newspaper industry jumped the gun in the way they provided web content for free. They miscalculated the fact that eyeballs alone would not be enough to cover their costs. They overvalued the paper, undervalued the service of providing the content, and missed the chance to change the value proposition when expectations were still fluid.

    The newspaper industry has successfully conditioned the market to perceive that journalism should be free. I think the biggest hurdle will be in convincing the market to mentally decouple the journalism business from the newspaper business. I don’t think this has happened yet in the general market, and until it does, none of Amber’s great list can be adopted.

  • Ellen’s right: while Amber raises good points, they’re all academic until newspapers, er, news organizations, can properly monetize online. Tribune’s upcoming “Chicago Now” site will present a good opportunity to see some new-ish (for a newspaper co.) online money-making strategies in effect. It would be nice to see something work before the Great Walls of Pay are erected en masse (which WILL happen if Hearst is remotely successful at it or if local online advertising continues to be stagnant).

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  • John H

    Reading your WWGD book now. I don’t think I can read too many news articles about companies going under without thinking about some of the points made in your book. Just saw an article on the Boston Globe http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,519079,00.html and thought “Are theses guys in trouble because of the way they think?” I’m trying to figure out WWGD with staffing companies?

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  • Robert Levine

    What Would Google Do With Newspapers?

    They would use their market share and cash reserves to squeeze the competition!

    For all your talk about newspapers as monopolies, it’s not them the DOJ is looking into:

  • ~M~

    I just had to come here and tell you how I am loving WWGD the audiobook! And how I came to have it is a total WWGD story….. So I was reading this blog

    And just because, I answered the question — and I won the audiobook! On a blog! She FedEx’d it to me and since I am not a business person, I didn’t think it would interest me much. But after the 3rd time I heard Lady Gaga on the 3rd radio station in a row (love her but enough already), I popped it in — and wow! I am still listening. It is amazing and eye opening.

    Here’s the funny thing — just had my finals in library school last week. Wrote a whole entire paper on library futures where I flailed around trying to articulate what is in this book, when I had never read it. Just pretty much railing against The Library-As-Brand for being cumbersome, old fashioned, becoming irrelevant, and needing to change in some very specific ways. I think I did say The Library needs to have a web network that combines the best of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and more. This is the 2nd paper I have written focusing on this topic. Let’s jet propel The Library-As-Brand into the new millenium already — it’s only been 9 years now. So glad I have the book bc it is articulating what I have been saying since I started grad school.

    So why am I here — well of course I had to go and blog about the book and link back to Jessica’s post, right? And leave a comment here? Bc that’s what the Googliers do. Lot’s of luck with it!

  • ~M~
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