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#29054 - 27 Sep 06 13:49 E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
KuKuKaChu Moderator Offline
Pooh Bah

Registered: 09 Oct 05
Posts: 10790
Loc: Centre of the Universe
From Editor and Publisher http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/columns/stopthepresses_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003156892

Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?

Why does the newspaper industry, for the most part, have so much trouble adapting to the changing of the media environment brought on by the Internet and digital communications technologies? Some newspaper new-media managers and workers talk frankly about what they see as their companies' flaws.

By Steve Outing

(September 25, 2006) -- What's wrong with the newspaper industry? Why does it, for the most part, have so much trouble adapting to the changing of the media environment brought on by the Internet and digital communications technologies? What are newspapers doing wrong -- what are they failing at -- that's causing stock valuations to plummet, investors to revolt, readership to slide, and advertising to drift off to other (newer) media?

Over the last decade-plus of writing this column (and other related activities and employment focused on the news industry), I've met lots of smart people people working at newspapers on the online side of the business. My sense is that in many (but not all) cases, these people possess a good vision of where newspapers need to go in order to survive in the coming decades.


But some of that vision -- perhaps much of it? -- is not allowed to be translated into action, into transforming the companies. (So you don't accuse me of over-generalizing, there are some newspaper companies that have allowed online visionaries who they've hired to truly push the envelope.)

So, I thought it would be interesting to hear some uncensored thoughts about what newspaper companies are doing wrong from the online side of the office. I asked newspaper new-media managers and workers to speak freely about what they see as their companies' flaws.

And I guaranteed them anonymity if they requested it, so they were free to criticize their employers. Everyone took me up on that offer.

The problem at the top

A common theme ran through the responses I got from newspaper online folks: A huge part of the problem is that newspaper companies are still being run, mostly, by people from the print side -- and who, though they may attempt to understand interactive media and the needs and media habits of young people, aren't effective at moving their organizations in a radically different, and necessary, direction. That's because they're still too tied to the print business and thus are unwilling to go in directions that might damage it, even if in the long run placing more resources and executive energy into new lines of (digital) business at the expense of the print edition is the right way to go.

Several of my anonymous respondents suggested that more newspapers need to put online editors in charge of the entire news operation. Wrote one: "Doesn't it make sense that the editor who is responsible for a 24/7 news product also oversee the once-daily version of that?"

That's perhaps a radical thought to many newspaper executives. It argues for putting online at the top of an organization, with the print edition being but one delivery channel for the company's editorial and advertising content, and thus underneath a central news operation that is responsible for "the news" and distributing it out to various channels.

I suspect that most news executives would agree that this is the direction the industry eventually must go. But the crux of the problem is that for many newspaper executives, it still seems to them as though it's too early to put online at the top of the corporate heirarchy. After all, the industry is still in a position where print revenues -- even though they may be on a slow decline -- remain massive, while online revenues continue to grow nicely but still represent a minority percentage of the overall business.

But those visionaries in the online divisions think that the time is NOW for online editors to take charge. Print-hardened top editors don't and perhaps can't fully appreciate the extent of changes that must be made within newspaper companies, so it's time for online editors to step into those top positions.

Wrote one correspondent: "Allowing print-side editors who have been damagingly slow to the new media dance to continue to run the show and call all the shots makes about as much sense as continuing to keep the operations (print and online) separate."

Online thinking applied to print

Related to that, I heard complaints about online departments and divisions still being in silos. One on my respondents put it well:

"I think the real problem is that the online staffs everywhere are viewed as change agents in an organization, and they can make great progress with online editions. But they have no voice about how to change the print edition. And this won't change until someone makes the bold move to put an online editor in charge of the entire news operation." (It's worth noting here that USA Today in late 2005 did name Kinsey Wilson, who headed up USAToday.com, as one of two executive editors for the entire USA Today editorial operation.)

That's an important point. Online staffs -- who historically have been the people within news organizations with a penchant for innovation -- tend to focus exclusively or mostly on online issues. But with online integrated and at the center of the news organization, these innovators can spend some of their time on all of the company's channels, including print.

Try this as a starter step: Invite as many people as can get away from the online department for a day to a brainstorming session with top print-side executives. Hire a facilitator to pick the brains of the online people as they are charged with coming up for a plan to redesign and reinvent -- yes -- the print edition. The outcome could be interesting and important for the future of the paper product.

I'd take this even a step further, and set up a second session where print executives hold a free-gripe session, and get to hear online folks' complaints and suggestions about what should be done at the corporate level but is not.

Double (or triple) the programming staff!

I heard about sparce programming staffs, which is silly, when you think about it. Newspaper companies that expect to succeed in the Internet space need to emphasize technological innovation much more than they have so far. And that's not going to happen with overworked programmers barely keeping up with existing demands.

One online manager at a mid-sized U.S. newspaper wrote to me: "I'm incredibly frustrated by the fact that we have only two web programmers who are overwhelmed with daily and weekly production chores, in addition to trying to find time for development work. We have dozens of very cool things that we could be doing that are just sitting in a long waiting line. We need to double, at least, the size of our programming."

A related complaint came from another mid-sized U.S. newspaper, where the content management system (CMS) "fails to address the breadth of content we deal with on a daily basis," requiring the staff to write hacks to get around the system's shortcomings and restrictions. "Sure, restrictions breed creativity. But hacks will only get you so far in this business," said this staffer.

Worse, the newspaper's web publishing relies on tables as part of page markup. "Using tables at this point in the Internet's evolution reeks of ignorance," he said. "CSS has been around for years, and there are plenty of resources and business cases to support its use."

Why is this paper, part of a national newspaper chain, so backward technologically? "Our corporate parent is responsible for the code the CMS spits out, and their standards for HTML proficiency seem to be low."

Wow. That's pathetic. It seems pretty clear that there remain plenty of newspaper companies that have yet to get up to speed when it comes to being web publishers.

The need for more technology hiring at many newspaper companies is clear.

Making the audience pay; does it make any sense?

One of my correspondents bitched about his paper's policy of putting exclusive content behind a pay wall -- a complaint that I concur with heartily. He wrote: "I think the business types are convinced that if we give things away we will lose money. I have tried to make the argument that allowing people to link to and comment on stories, columns and other content makes them worth MORE rather than less, but I'm not having much luck."

That's an arguable point, I suppose, but I still support giving away most content and figuring out how to effectively monetize it. We live in a Google economy, where a wealth of news and information is at our fingertips. There's simply too much available, so easily and free, for it to make sense for most news companies to charge for most of their content. It's far better to focus on search engine optimization and smart marketing methods to drive traffic, and let advertisers pay the bill. Leave the paid content to that that is truly unique and worth paying for.

(I continue to believe that NYTimes.com's "TimesSelect" program, which puts the New York Times' popular op-ed columnists and other columnists behind a pay wall, is a bad idea. The Times would be better off, in my view, by building a massive worldwide online audience for its famous columnists and selling that to advertisers. And no, my correspondent above does not work for the Times.)

The writer above also complained about his newspaper's "intimidating and hard-to-use pay system that requires readers to pay exorbitant sums to buy "packs" of articles, regardless of whether they only want one."

Yeah, that's another of my newspaper pet peeves. Too many newspapers remain stuck in old thinking when it comes to selling archived content. I'd rather see free archives supported by contextual advertising revenues, or at least that combined with reasonable prices for viewing archived articles rather than absurd $2- or $3-per-article charges that turn away many potential paying customers.

Let's ACT on the research

Finally, another respondent blamed the newspaper industry for ignoring important research, especially that of the Readership Institute. "Generally speaking, the industry, with a few notable exceptions, pretty much ignored the research and recommendations of the Institute, both for newspapers and, later, online. As a result, the prognostications of the research are coming true, and faster than even the Institute predicted."

"The truth is out there. Indeed, it is still sitting on a shelf at a lot of newspapers, like most of the research we never pay any attention to. ... As a result, we deserve what we get, like a 50 percent drop in stock values for public companies, punishment from investors who obviously recognize we had the tools to fix things if we wanted to, but decided to blow it anyway because of our inability to adapt to a changing market."

Time for big change

Obviously, there's a lot of frustration among new-media people employed at and managing newspaper online departments and divisions. Do they have all the answers? Probably not. But I got a sense from my little "frank talk" experiment that some of the ideas and complaints expressed to me are being conveyed by online team members and managers to newspaper top executives -- but they are largely ignored or resisted.

Given the state of decline of the newspaper industry, perhaps it's past time to give online leaders a chance to take the reins of newspaper companies and try out some radical ideas for publishing in the Internet age.

Steve Outing (steve@outing.us)
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#29055 - 27 Sep 06 20:37 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
Patung Offline
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Registered: 11 Mar 06
Posts: 234
Loc: Indonesia
The JakPost website could be turning over tens of thousands of dollars per week, mostly profit, I doubt it is now, instead theyre running pop-ups to Chinese language sites, wtf?
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#29056 - 27 Sep 06 20:43 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
KuKuKaChu Moderator Offline
Pooh Bah

Registered: 09 Oct 05
Posts: 10790
Loc: Centre of the Universe
i think that little popup gizmo has been taken out. i'm farily sure it was a hack.

The Jakarta Post as a business proposition is a joke. management truly would not have a clue, and they seem to care even less. an attitude reflected in their workforce.
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#29057 - 27 Sep 06 20:53 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
riccardo Offline
Pujangga

Registered: 12 Oct 05
Posts: 2195
Loc: Jakarta
In my research project I'm working on there is a section advertising revenue in RI, and I found out from the CFO of Detik.com that they regularly pull in about US$1.5 million to $2mill per year -- NET! Of course the ads on their site are a psychotic jumble of wild, colorful chaos. imagine being on something like acid and happening upon that site... Ah well they laugh all the way to the bank -- as they have virtually zero overhead, a couple hundred stringers and a few computers.
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#29058 - 27 Sep 06 21:12 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
KuKuKaChu Moderator Offline
Pooh Bah

Registered: 09 Oct 05
Posts: 10790
Loc: Centre of the Universe
hmmm. we're in the wrong business.

pity the pool of english-speakers in indonesia wasn't larger.
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#29059 - 27 Sep 06 21:32 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
Patung Offline
Member++

Registered: 11 Mar 06
Posts: 234
Loc: Indonesia
According to my stats for indonesiamatters, if there are 15 page views emanating from 'id' there are 40 from 'unknown', 15 from 'net', 10 from 'com', 3 from 'au', 3 from 'sg', ......

so i mean the market is not just the small pool of english speakers here, or a news site's market isn't. Depends how it is done.
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#29060 - 27 Sep 06 21:40 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
KuKuKaChu Moderator Offline
Pooh Bah

Registered: 09 Oct 05
Posts: 10790
Loc: Centre of the Universe
i know what you mean, however i feel that a large core of english-speakers who are resident in indonesia is required to support a news site. advertising spending is more often than not based around local considerations.
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#29061 - 27 Sep 06 21:52 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
Patung Offline
Member++

Registered: 11 Mar 06
Posts: 234
Loc: Indonesia
Once you have the visitors ads can be geo-targeted so that they are locally relevant, if that is necessary. Often it isn't, look at the plain text ads on right lower side of http://www.atimes.com/, air purifiers and data recovery have nothing to do with asia.
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#29062 - 27 Sep 06 21:59 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
KuKuKaChu Moderator Offline
Pooh Bah

Registered: 09 Oct 05
Posts: 10790
Loc: Centre of the Universe
yes, but these are not very high earning ads in most cases. i feel you need a focussed core of local english-speaking residents, plus "outsiders" to make up the numbers, in order to attract high paying advertising. this focussed core i feel just doesn't exist at the moment. but this could change of course in the very near future. remember, you would need to cover a payroll of 10s of 1000s of dollars every single month without fail, before even thinking about profits.
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#29063 - 27 Sep 06 22:02 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
Dilli Offline
Pujangga Besar

Registered: 26 Feb 06
Posts: 8044
Loc: Nearest Bar
Add sex! Think Profit!
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#29064 - 27 Sep 06 22:12 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
KuKuKaChu Moderator Offline
Pooh Bah

Registered: 09 Oct 05
Posts: 10790
Loc: Centre of the Universe
oh! so you're volunteering to invest, are you? we'll need around USD10,000 per month to start with ... for Progammers, Graphic Designers, Chief Editor, Subeditors x 2, journalists x 4, advertising sales persons, administration, misc expenditure, rent, amortised capital expenditure ...
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#29065 - 27 Sep 06 22:31 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
Patung Offline
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Registered: 11 Mar 06
Posts: 234
Loc: Indonesia
USD10,000 a month is peanuts as you know, is that all? Starting out from absolute zero though would be hard.
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#29066 - 27 Sep 06 22:31 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
Dilli Offline
Pujangga Besar

Registered: 26 Feb 06
Posts: 8044
Loc: Nearest Bar
I'll just provide the sex bit. Gratis
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#29067 - 27 Sep 06 22:32 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
Patung Offline
Member++

Registered: 11 Mar 06
Posts: 234
Loc: Indonesia
Quote:
Originally posted by Dilligaf:
I'll just provide the sex bit. Gratis
No, that won't bring in nearly enough.
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#29068 - 28 Sep 06 08:09 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
KuKuKaChu Moderator Offline
Pooh Bah

Registered: 09 Oct 05
Posts: 10790
Loc: Centre of the Universe
Quote:
Originally posted by patung:
USD10,000 a month is peanuts as you know, is that all? Starting out from absolute zero though would be hard.
no, it wouldn't be hard at all. if the cash is there and committed, and the financiar is willing to bide his time until he gets a payback, then it could be up and running in as little as a month. most time would be needed for recruiting, graphic design and programming.
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#29069 - 28 Sep 06 09:55 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
Patung Offline
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Registered: 11 Mar 06
Posts: 234
Loc: Indonesia
Yes, I didn't mean how long to set it up, I meant building up readership, generating revenue, etc, but with a patient benefactor then it would likely be sweet. graphic designers and programmers I would steer well clear of, on the KISS principle among others.
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#29070 - 28 Sep 06 10:00 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
KuKuKaChu Moderator Offline
Pooh Bah

Registered: 09 Oct 05
Posts: 10790
Loc: Centre of the Universe
on the contrary ... programmers can -- if properly directed -- make systems work much better. in fact, they would be essential in any case for a serious news site. graphic designers are good for doing charts and graphs and illustrations. these things keep the media looking interesting and fresh, and readers like visuals to break up text.
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#29071 - 28 Sep 06 10:08 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
Patung Offline
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Registered: 11 Mar 06
Posts: 234
Loc: Indonesia
You would need site administrators, not programmers, at least not permanent ones, a site like jakpost for example needs no ongoing programming work if the right cms is chosen. Graphics are good but usually it's just photos that are used, no real need for permanent specialised staff there. Depends on the size of the site likely.
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#29072 - 28 Sep 06 10:16 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
KuKuKaChu Moderator Offline
Pooh Bah

Registered: 09 Oct 05
Posts: 10790
Loc: Centre of the Universe
JP is an good example of why you *must* have programmers. the site is a complete mess, and the admins are not capable of fixing even the simplest of progamming problems, and/or are not being allowed to fix programing problems.
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#29073 - 28 Sep 06 10:23 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
Patung Offline
Member++

Registered: 11 Mar 06
Posts: 234
Loc: Indonesia
They need a good cms and a good sysadmin or two. The rest is auto-pilot.
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#29074 - 28 Sep 06 19:11 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
riccardo Offline
Pujangga

Registered: 12 Oct 05
Posts: 2195
Loc: Jakarta
sorry to bore you fellas with my stats from my work, but I just came across these little tidbits. In 1997, daily newspaper readership/penetration hit an all-time high in Indonesia at 53%, but has been dropping dramatically since and in 2004 hit 29%, 2005 hit 25% and by July 2006 down to 23%. By 2010, they could well be at single digits. TV has climbed from 66% in the mid-90s to 93% now and Internet has gone from 2.2% in 2004 to 4.5% in 1h2006.

For newspaper men, the writing is on the wall. But will they read it?
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#29075 - 28 Sep 06 21:30 Re: E&P/Why Aren't Newspapers Breaking Out of the Box?
KuKuKaChu Moderator Offline
Pooh Bah

Registered: 09 Oct 05
Posts: 10790
Loc: Centre of the Universe
3g may well be the death knell for printed news media. whislt indonesians are resistant to owning a computer with internet, they are most certainly switched on when it comes to mobile communications devices. once content can be delivered reliably and cheaply to mobile devices, then the writing will be on the wall for much printed news media.

(btw, i've just registered my new mobile domain, www.okusi.mobi ... nothing much there yet, but in time ...)
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