7 Steps to Save Your Local Newspaper: #2 – Become Comfortable with New Media

October 17, 2010

The next step in saving your local newspaper is to become comfortable with what is called “new media,” and specifically with Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 is the newest branch of the Internet, encompassing its community networking and interactive avenues such as blogs, community generated content, and twitter. This is the way that information is going to be exchanged in the future; it is dynamic and immediate. And unfortunately, local newspapers are going to be left behind if they don’t learn how to disseminate information in a form that people will be able to digest. This is a revolution in how people think about information, so it is going to take some effort to make the necessary changes.

Honestly, I could go on about new media for pages, but for now let’s just go into a few pointers:

1. First of all, set up some form of online presence.

This can be simple at first, even a single page or wordpress blog is a good start. You don’t want people who are searching on the Internet for local news in your area to come up with nothing. This represents a huge demographic which is currently being lost to the wind. If you don’t know how to set this up, you can hire a freelance worker to do it for next to nothing.

2. Test the usability of your web presence.

If you already have a website, or if you’ve just set one up, perform a usability test. Get one or more of your readers to log onto your website and ask them to try to find a feature that they read in your print edition a couple of weeks ago. Ideally, the user should be able to locate the feature within a couple of clicks. If they can’t, you need to hire someone to rework your website to make it more user friendly. Again, this should not be very expensive, and I could even give you the names of a few people who could do this for you for a reasonable price. It will pay off in the long run when the change to digital results in readers who don’t even purchase print editions (which is, in fact, already happening to an extent).

3. Build your community by gaining information about your readers.

Give your readers fuller access to your website in exchange for a small parcel of information about themselves, for example their email address. One really easy way to make this happen is to require users to sign up for an account in order to leave comments after the online edition of your articles. This not only adds extra value to your website by turning your articles into a dynamic conversation, but it also gives you access to your readers’ email addresses, an important link that you can take advantage of later on.

4. Use the flexibility of the online medium to update your stories.

One of the major limitations of the local news model is that information is only disseminated once a week. This makes it terribly difficult to keep a story going from one edition to the next. For this reason, stories tend to live and die in a single issue. But with an online presence, you can perform small updates to stories on the website. This allows stories with greater interest to receive follow up attention. You can even install a program on your website that will tell you which stories are being read most frequently so that you can make sure to perform updates on these stories. When you publish an article in your print edition, you can give directions to go to the website to receive updates on the story.

5. Integrate Video.

Part of new media is the merging together of formerly distinct media. Hence, a local newspaper need no longer be just print. It can incorporate video and audio interviews as well. If you have the budget, expanding the role of your journalists to encompass video is a great way to reengage your audience. If you don’t have the budget, you can also explore community generated content. Or as a third option, you may consider hiring young freelancers just out of college to do this sort of supplementary work for you.

6. Get a twitter account.

You’ve heard of twitter, but you may not realize how it could be a part of your news organization. Twitter is a great way to quickly disseminate live information about topics of interest. This adds to the “real-time” quality of your newsroom. It also serves to keep your audience engaged. They are far more likely to appreciate the service that you provide if news is brought to them in real time, rather than just once a week. Even if this means sending out just 140 characters (the Twitter limit) every once in a while between official publications, this increases the volume of your voice.

I could go into a lot more detail on each of these topics, and I think that an entire series of new media posts is probably in order. But until then, do your best to explore each of these aspects of new media and implement them into your business. And if you have trouble with any of the technical elements of this technology, shoot me a message and I’ll try to hook you up with an affordable consultant who can help you.

Next week we’ll be looking more closely at the problem of print versus new media. Until next time…

…think outside the newsstand,

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