The Marginalization of Newspapers

I am a cheerleader for newspapers.

I want them to succeed and even feel that the health of the society is tied to the health of journalism. Some newspapers are making strides — we’ll see what becomes of the Yahoo! consortium deals — but most are lagging and will feel more market pain as they announce Q3 revenues (hit by a slumping real estate market).

Here’s something of a tragic statement about the state of the industry. The McClatchy company, which acquired the assets of Knight Ridder, is now worth less as a company ($1.5 billion) than it paid for those assets ($4.5 billion). (Knight Ridder itself was compelled to sell by a disgruntled shareholder who didn’t like the company’s valuation.) Those low valuations are a result of the fact that the newspapers have not been able to tell a convincing story to Wall Street about their future and they continue to loose traditional revenues (esp. classifieds). See also, the note re Scripps below.

Another tragic (or perhaps hopeful) statement is the creation of Pro Publica, an independent, non-profit organization formed to do investigative journalism that will offer its pieces to newspapers and magazines. It was formed by former Wall Street Journal editor Paul E. Steiger as a response to newsroom cutbacks and the growing recognition that newspapers are not able to provide the kind of quality news content that once was simply a given.

On the other end of spectrum, Topix, which is newspaper owned, announced that the “active local forums on its site now exceeds the total number of daily newspapers in the United States for the first time.” Formerly print newspapers were at the center of the community. But, increasingly, they are being marginalized amid the various content options and tumult of the Internet.

I think there are several (not simple) things that newspapers can and should do online — some are — to improve their competitive position:

  1. Invest in (don’t cut) content creation
  2. Redesign sites and improve site search to make them more functional and user friendly
  3. Judiciously integrate community (this by itself isn’t the solution)
  4. Improve SEO for their sites (which is related to #2 above)
  5. Syndicate all their ads out to the broader Internet
  6. Emulate the YP “agency” model for local advertisers (some are trying)
  7. Probably collectively buy Centro, which now apparently handles half the national ad buying for newspaper sites.

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Related: EW Scripps is going to divide itself into two publicly traded companies, separating the newspaper business from its cable TV and other properties (e.g., Shopzilla/BizRate). Investors were happy about the news.

2 Responses to “The Marginalization of Newspapers”

  1. earlpearl Says:

    I also mourn the slow but steady erosion of their income and effectiveness due to the web.

    I would hope newspapers would band together to discover a best practices set of responses to this phenomena.

    Newsroom cutbacks may be a reasonable response to their loss of income but it has significantly cut back on their ability to perform a critical function.

  2. walter Says:

    As one who has been in the blogging world for several years, and certainly depends on newspapers–from all over the world–for information, I don’t understand why there continues to be so much dismay about declining readership and vanishing ad revenue. Maybe a little less top-down management, not so much support of the status quo, fewer editors, and more support of those that actually produce the news might help a little. Last but not least recognition that the web will continue to grow regardless of what newspapers do.

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