Slate: Newspapers not Late, Just Wrong

This Slate column chonicles newspapers electronic publishing efforts from way back and argues that newspapers weren’t late to the Internet, their strategy and approach were wrong:

Newspapers deserve bragging rights for having homesteaded the Web long before most government agencies and major corporations knew what a URL was. Given the industry’s early tenancy, deep pockets, and history of paranoid experimentation with new communication forms, one would expect to find plenty in the way of innovations and spinoffs.

But that’s not the case, and I think I know why: From the beginning, newspapers sought to invent the Web in their own image by repurposing the copy, values, and temperament found in their ink-and-paper editions. Despite being early arrivals, despite having spent millions on manpower and hardware, despite all the animations, links, videos, databases, and other software tricks found on their sites, every newspaper Web site is instantly identifiable as a newspaper Web site. By succeeding, they failed to invent the Web.

Agree or disagree? Is this a “culture” issue and what, if anything, does it imply about the directory/YP industry?

Perhaps the other question to ask is: even if newspapers had gotten the strategy right and created a range of online sites different from their print editions, would the current impact on print of online news distribution be any different?

4 Responses to “Slate: Newspapers not Late, Just Wrong”

  1. Mike Bunnell Says:

    I haven’t read that article, but I think the idea is right on. I spent 6 years at a newspaper (OC Register), and saw this exact thing play out. Newspapers tried a lot of little things that represented a new strategic approach, but the big picture online strategy was always limited by management not wanting to cannibalize the core strategy, which we all know was in decay.

    The classic example is the resistance or outright refusal to include outbound links in stories. The concern was that you would lose the reader if you sent them off your site. The fundamental misunderstanding was not realizing that links are a new form of the editorial process, and that becoming known as a place that can consistently provide links to quality, relevant information would reinforce newspapers’ identity as an information filter.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    It’s kind of tragic, the whole NP situation.

  3. Mike Bunnell Says:

    Indeed. They were the incumbent, so well positioned with their brands and resources. Really tough to turn that battleship, though — especially when you haven’t really had to turn it much for 100 years.

    It’s sad, and there is going to be a local info gap for a while, but the vacuum is going to open up opportunities for new players in the local info space, which is exciting.

  4. Just As Long As Me | WarCraftClips.info Says:

    […] Slate: Newspapers not Late, Just Wrong « Screenwerk […]

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