So we have two media companies. Both are wildly successful and make a lot of money. They have all the customers they could want. And then the media landscape begins to change. One company stands pat and believes that it offers such a valuable and appreciated service that it will weather the storm. Or to paraphrase TARP terminology, it is “too valuable to fail.” The other company realizes that it does not have to change the product it delivers, only come up with a new delivery system while still keeping the old product. Which newspapers are we talking about? Not newspapers – Netflix and Blockbuster. Netflix is still in the movie business, but changed from being a send-it-in-the-mail business to a video on demand leader. Blockbuster went bankrupt and got swallowed up by Dish Network, which is itself in trouble. There are definitely lessons here for the newspaper industry.
One of our most dangerous temptations in community journalism is to emphasize the “community” part of our name and not the “journalism.”
We’re not metros (thank God). But neither should we think that we are somehow insulated from their pressures and problems, or that the issues they face will be a long time in coming to us – if ever. The old “that’s a city problem, not our problem” idea died when mass communications and then social media knit the nation into one 311-million-person village.
Case in point: the news of Bin Laden’s death. Now what could be further from the news coverage issues we face in Texas community journalism?
But we’ve got to pay attention to what we learned in that coverage. Like the fact that Twitter dictated the news, not the White House. The president may be able to order the execution of the leader of Al Qaeda, but he can’t determine how news will break.
One site, analyzing the coverage, included this important observation, one we should all consider:
“As notions, ‘edition’ and deadline are dead.A newspaper editor’s worst nightmare is breaking news landing on a Sunday night at closing time. Such conjunction of content and timing carries a high risk of irrelevancy — if missed, or of good-faith false information hitting the streets the next day — if inaccurate. We all have memories of too-close-to-call elections, rumors of a personality’s death, etc.
“Newspapers took time to make their mind up on the question of deadlines and editions (and many have yet to cross that Rubicon). But the leaders of the pack took the straightforward option: dump everything on the internet, as fast as you can and without regard for closing deadlines.
“For the Bin Laden story, most big news organizations produced vast amounts of articles as their physical papers were being re-edited. By the time the updated edition hit the street, its content had been posted on the net, but every story had also been continuously updated and augmented. Did it affect newsstand sales? Early data show this isn’t the case. Sales always rise, no matter how more up-to-date the publication website is. With high impact news, analyzing reader reactions shows people still enjoy the physical paper’s broad view — and, for those special occasions, there is the ‘collector’s item’ feeling.”
Note the first sentence – “edition” and “deadline” are dead. That’s the idea that the production of the news (reporting, writing, editing, design, production, distribution) somehow determine when the news is ready for consumption by readers. That’s a concept straight out of the 20th century. And the 19th, 18th, 17th, and so forth.
Right now, we see that playing out in major international and national news stories – the death of Bin Laden, the William and Kate wedding, the death of Michael Jackson. But social media especially are making significant inroads in all our communities. And we saw in the recent Texas fires that many people in the state were turning to Facebook and websites because they wanted to know right then – not when the paper came out later – what the news was.
Read also what the quote above said about what happened when the print editions of the newspapers came out. Did the fact that people heard about it on Twitter and discussed it on Facebook and saw it on the news stop them from buying newspapers? Not at all. The next day’s papers were selling out because people want to read more about high-interest items. After all, do people who watched Friday night’s football game and talked about it in church Sunday avoid the coverage in your newspaper because they already know so much, or are they eager to read more and see the photos and stats you publish?
We are part of a revolution in how people get their information. It hit the West and East coasts first, then the cities, then the suburbs … and now we’re all affected.
And what does it mean for community papers? Mainly that we’re not community papers any more. We are community news sources that publish a paper, in addition to the other ways we disseminate the news. The paper is our centerpiece, our flagship, our most important product – but more and more, breaking news will be found on Twitter and Facebook and our websites.
It may not be the way we thought we would be practicing journalism, but remember that journalism isn’t newspapers – newspapers contain journalism. Journalism is what our readers want to know, and we’ve got to be about the business of giving it to them.
This article, “15 Ways to Generate Revenue for a Community News Site,” was written for hyperlocal online news sites — the competitors of most newspapers. But some of these ideas can easily be adapted for use by your own newspaper’s website. Here the first one: “Find a topic of interest to an audience and a particular advertiser. Have the advertiser put together a video to be aired on the site as a webinar. Readers sign up for it for free. The advertiser gets the names and emails of the attendees as possible sales leads in exchange for a sponsorship fee. A real estate agent might conduct a webinar on how to shop for a home, for example.” Let’s imagine, for instance, that you have a restaurant that’s known for making the best apple pie in town. Take your Flip camera down to the restaurant and let the owner show how to bake a great apple pie, step by step, on video. Then he/she can talk about the restaurant and the other pies they make there. At the end of the video (and you promote this at the very first to keep people tuned in), you offer a recipe if you click on a link — that helps to build the owner’s email list with the captured addresses. And who’s going to help the owner with the email campaign and tie it into your print and Internet editions? Your paper, of course!