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Ideas for Newspaper Survival

A friend recently shared a blog post on “12 Things Newspapers Should Do to Survive” by Vadim Lavrusik, a new media student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

The post caught my attention because it didn’t focus on all the negativity I’ve seen about the looming death of newspapers (or even more ridiculous claims that journalism itself is dying). Rather, Lavrusik focuses on a lot of the positives at play in the newspaper industry today, specifically:

  • How journalism is expanding with social media
  • How smart media organizations are tapping audiences and sources to create user-generated news
  • What forward-thinking media publishers can do to transform their newspapers

A key (and obvious) observation from the post is that newspapers need to find new revenue streams to secure their future financial viability. I couldn’t agree more. But if you really think about it, that’s always been the case for newspapers. As Lavrusik points out, newspapers have had multiple revenue streams for a long-time. The problem is a lot of those tried and true streams have dried up (subscriptions, traditional and classified advertising, etc.). So what can newspapers do to improve their financial positions?

Lavrusik doesn’t profess to know all the answers but rather gets the conversation started with a few observations across the newspaper industry. Among his suggestions:

  • Put the Web first, and provide reporting from multiple platforms
  • Go niche – the money is no longer in mass media
  • Offer unique content in print – content your readers can’t get anywhere else (I always think of Consumer Reports with this one)
  • Journalists as curators and contextualizers – another argument for the value of the link economy for newspapers
  • Real-time reporting integration – open up new streams of communication to facilitate real-time reporting from journalists and consumers alike
  • Internal culture – start-up versus corporate; probably the most challenging hurdle to overcome for traditional publishers, being more nimble and faster to react to changes in the marketplace
  • Encourage innovation – an extension of the startup culture argument, create an environment that supports innovation
  • Invest in emerging technology, particularly around content consumption – make your content available on new devices like e-book readers and smart phones
  • Communicating with, not just to, readers – one of the best suggestions on the list, publishers need to talk and listen these days
  • Building community – the audience is not just a circulation or readership number, it’s lots of individuals. Publishers need to nurture and grow their communities to be successful and promote brand loyalty.
  • Carefully consider the implications of charging for content – the real hot-button issue today is whether or not to charge for content. Both paid and free content models (and all the hybrids in between) will help newspapers survive. But those that flourish might be those that continue to provide information for free.

The only point I would add to this list is that newspaper publishers need to preserve their two biggest assets: content producers and content consumers. It’s a supply and demand thing. Publishers should go to great lengths to keep the best content in-house. I always scratch my head when a newspaper shutters a column or entire section, it’s just throwing readers (the lifeblood of revenue) out with the over-runs. At the same time, publishers need to do a better job at learning from their audiences. What content do they like the most and want to see? What’s most valuable to them? Many think they know this, but if they really did, they wouldn’t have problems finding new revenue streams.

Granted, we’ve seen a lot of these suggestions in one form or another. Many of the suggestions are easier said than done, but they’re all within the realm of possibilities for newspaper publishers. The question is, which ones are willing to take on the risk and innovate their way out of the problems they face today?

I think this post is one of the better (and most thorough) I’ve seen on the topic of newspaper survival. I encourage you to read the post and join the discussion on Lavrusik’s blog here.

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