New Media means changing old media. Really.
Newspapers and traditional media seem to just "not get it". This article by David Lazarus of the Los Angeles Times clearly identifies the problem - newspapers are treating online like it’s the same publishing medium as a hardcopy paper.
I visited the LA times site to view David’s article online and see what was going on. Having the print copy delivered to me every day and not reading the paper online, I'm very old school and like to touch the paper and wrestle it to the ground when it doesn't fold.I know where he’s coming from – I’d be worried about my job and my future if I saw newspaper revenues continue their decline. And, of course nobody is going to pay for the same article online that's in the paper – its just not the model people are used to. I’m positive, however, that advertising can support a newspaper – even one as big as the LA times. Rupert Murdoch is betting on it by intending to what I think is the world's most successful (most profitable?) online subscription content – the Wall Street Journal – available for free. He surely gets it – why can’t everyone? I bet at $60M a year in subscriptions, and with 980k current subscribers, revenue at $10CPM is around $20M/year. That's not the same, of course, but open it up and make it interactive, the audience could grow to 2M+ and the # of pageviews would also increase, driving up ad rates. In 2.5 years, the WSJ could be making $100M+ online just through CPM ads.
For the LA Times specifically, it’s a great paper (top 5 in the US) but there's no just value in the online edition. Reading David’s this article online contains nothing Web 2.0 at all - it’s merely a paper reprint. This is death-by-smothering from a traditional media company, and I certainly see the cause for concern.T
Traditional Media Death 2.0: On the LA times article in question, there's no ability for readers to comment on the article or have a discussion, submit viewpoints or even link to the article. There’s no social bookmarking or sharing the article (except via email), no hyperlinks in the article to sources or related stories, and no simple way to get RSS feeds for that column / author. No submitting to Digg or any other site that would lead more readers back to the article. For interaction, there's just a link to the author's email address, which will result in the poor guy to get included in every spam list in the Ukraine and Romania. The article was clearly written for print – not for the web, and that’s just not what the web generation expects from anything online – there’s no personalization or interaction. And that's exactly how to stop online readership from expanding.
The old model of write & publish is over. If the LA Times was serious about online, they'd stop treating it as a bastard stepchild of print. Yes, there would be a difficult transition period as it would be impossible to support 900+ staffers with online revenues at this stage. But assuming a transition could be worked out and an upfront investment in the future was made, the end result would be an interactive site that fuels itself - an accredited reporter posts an article (doesn't have to wait for press time - it can go up at the right time) and that article, if deemed valuable, will be passed to others by the international community. It’s not just about servicing Los Angeles, it’s getting the news of Los Angeles and the world out to everyone who's interested – faster than any other pub.
But, it takes discipline to see an article get trashed, mocked, or relegated to the heap of articles if not valuable. Comments, ratings, and user feedback will do that – it’s a consumer-driven economy now and the good (greater distribution) comes with the bad.
However, exclusivity is really key here - articles that come from the AP are now a commodity – there’s zero value in reposting something that everyone else posts as well. News that everyone else is covering – without having a specific angle or a unique feature, source or contributor – are a dime a dozen, and only weigh down the cost structure of a paper. Cut the ‘me too’ stuff – use a feed to pull in AP articles with minimum cost and overhead – and focus only on the stuff nobody else has (or can have).
Leverage those news desks around the world - break some news - see it spread and see the credit get linked back directly to the reporter. This will drive pageviews and unique users from outside the normal geographic market, which will in turn drive advertising appeal and ad rates.
And, alongside of that, change the ad model - the advertising team must be stand-alone and not have every deal linked to the print side. The current ads on the site seem like freebies thrown in by the print ad department. Create sponsorships for sections, use non-standard ad sizes, and adios the low-revenue text Google ads and replace them with higher rev direct ads - the Google stuff is crap and it makes the site look cheap, too.
One thing David's article mentions is the Little Guy – small newspapers won’t be able to support online because they’re entirely the wrong structure. Small papers would need a new low cost back office structure to survive. Most just can’t or won’t make this transition – it would require laying off too many people – or they just wouldn’t recognize the skills sets that they need to find or keep. Good reporters, however, can and will survive – even as bloggers. The world will continue to need journalists with integrity and the ability to find news – those are not skills any technology can replace. As long as there is exclusive news, people will pay for it in one way or another.
Today’s publishers are right to say that the internet side of their business can’t support the business. But, that doesn't mean it can't forever. Publishers must make the commitment, investment and effort to build the right online experience for readers – not dangle it as a loose thread from their flagship. Until then, I expect we’ll hear thousands more stories, tragedies and complaints from traditional media who, as many entrenched industries have done in the past, can’t make the transition to the future because they're too entrenched in the past. It won’t be easy, but there is a clear path forward, and it is possible.