It ain’t what you don’t know that will hurt you. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
- Mark Twain
An open letter to Newspaper Executives:
The internet and digital technology have brought significant change and, occasionally, death to many industries. The newspaper industry is no exception, as advertising revenues and reader subscriptions have plummeted. You are already painfully aware of these digital disruption facts.
A return to the old days is not going to happen. But does that mean that newspapers are doomed? Not yet, but certainly likely, if you maintain the status quo.
Here is a recommended roadmap for newspaper reinvention that we would pursue, if this business was our livelihood:
Carefully study the trailblazers and what they have learned over the past 5 years. There are many lessons. Here are a few of the best ones we would start with: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Voice of San Diego.
Make customer engagement a top priority in all reinvention ideas. Build communities for your readers and your business advertisers. Your biggest customers, other businesses, are also going through significant change … you to make their success the centerpiece of their reinvention.
Become a more predominant business leader within the region. Be a hands-on leader, spokesman, and creator of change and improvement in ways that local governments have not been able to do. Make the leadership of change the flagship of your new brand.
Go hyper-local with the predominance of your news and information. Limit the state, national, and international news to summaries only.
Frequently solicit ideas from your customers on critical issues. Make crowdsourcing a center of competence and use it for both internal as well as local issues. Experiment, prototype, and test fearlessly … iterate often. Make business model experimentation a top priority. Note that 80% of the game-changing ideas over the last 100 years came from people outside the fields where the new ideas were successful.
Employ all emerging media platforms such as video and mobile, two important examples. Identify creative, synergistic ways to integrate them.
Encourage new, innovative ways to collaborate with other businesses. Look for inventive partnerships that can yield win-win opportunities.
Become a medium for entertainment and local social sharing. On-line internet games and learning are in their infancy and would be a great place to start.
Many of the issues that your readers and businesses face are multi-faceted and complex. Be more innovative in ways to present information and data visually to improve education and bring clarity to these issues.
Finally, many of these ideas (and others) will require new skillsets. Develop and hire new skills such as multi-media specialists, community builders, information technology experts, curators, and innovation specialists.
Several of these recommendations you are already pursuing, many others have yet to be defined or implemented.
The biggest obstacle the newspaper industry faces?
Letting go of the old ways fast enough so that the new ways have a chance to grow and develop.
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