If you were to ask an editor for a local newspaper what type of value local news provides, you would probably get an answer along the lines of: “Quality information is an intrinsic civic good whose value cannot ever be fully measured. Our constitution’s second amendment could not stand without the aid of this indispensable value.”
And of course, our wise editor would be completely right. But at the same time, she would be missing something fundamental about the nature of local news. In addition to these lofty “values” that it supports, it also has an economic value, one that that is simply cannot survive without.
Let me illustrate this point using a quote from an excellent article by Dave Chase: titled The next step in advertising: Local media as merchants? Dave writes, “Media companies should recognize their business purpose is to connect their audience with products and services the audience desires. Without that business purpose, they can’t fulfill their editorial mission.”
This “editorial mission” is the lofty civic value that newspapers strive to produce, the one that our hypothetical editor loves to eulogize upon. But without this other value, the newspaper’s “business purpose,” they simply won’t have enough money to stay afloat. And guess what? This means that all of that wonderful civic value is going down the drain right along with the failed business. The truth is that things are not as the legacy thinkers have tried to characterize them. Local newspapers do not have some this-or-that choice between delivering journalism or making money. Rather, they can’t possibly continue to do the former (conduct journalism) if they don’t find some way to do the latter (make money).and this model is starting to become outdated
This means that newspapers need to become more proactive in using their economic value to generate revenue. In the past, this was done through advertising, and the newspapers seemed to be okay with this “hands off” approach to monetization. But unfortunately, this model will soon cease to be profitable. And the new model to take its place will be for local newspapers to directly sell products to their communities. They will be in the business of bringing quality products to their readers; products that they known that their readers will be interested in, because they understand the nature of the communities they serve. Rather than simply being payed to display ads, regardless of their relevance, they will actually sell products that they know their readers want.
Once again, the legacy thinkers are certain to condemn this new tactic. Why? Because it forces them to become directly involved in their means of monetization (as opposed to just putting up an ad and then washing their hands of its content). As Dave Chase wittily notes, the news industry seems to see the separation of news and business as more guarded than the separation between church and state! And this is exactly why big players like the LA Times have gone to so much trouble to not promote their affiliate links (last week’s post). They don’t want to admit that they are running a business!
But if the news industry doesn’t face up to the facts and start changing the way they think about generating revenue, they will be doomed to fail. If you can see any other way out, go ahead and leave a comment.
Think outside the newsstand,
Photo by Marcel Germain