7 Steps to Save Your Local Newspaper: #5 Recognize the Role of Technology in Your Business

January 3, 2011

From the printing press to digital media, the newspaper industry is no stranger to technological innovations.  Since the first rudimentary printing press was invented in China in 593 A.D., technological advancements have played a pivotal role in shaping the newspaper industry to facilitate its primary objective of gathering and disseminating  the news.  The newspaper forerunners recognized the citizen’s insatiable appetite for information and began to explore ways to meet this need.  From a historical perspective, the industry has come a long way from chiseling away on stone tablets or writing on wood blocks.  Billions of dollars have been invested in new technologies that have enabled the industry to better meet the demand.   Plato said “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”.   That necessity led to the invention and enhancements  in paper, inks, the printing press, the telegraph, radio, television, and ultimately the internet.  That need will continue and new innovations will continually be introduced to better meet the need.

For the purposes of this step, we’re going to focus on the two primary objectives of the local newspaper, gathering and disseminating or distributing the news and exploring opportunities to leverage technology.  The large city or national newspapers that have huge budgets are already integrating technology effectively and will continue to do so because they are not limited by their resources.  The local newspapers, however, are extremely limited and must embrace technological advancements as a resource that will allow them to do more with less.  It is paramount that the local newspapers recognize the huge potential readily available and in most cases is already happening and take advantage of it.  I rant all the time about a weekly newspaper being nothing more than a history book because by the time it reaches its readers, through the use of modern technology, they have already had the information for a week.  This particular business model is no longer meeting the needs of the consumer.  Hopefully if you’ve been following this series, you recognize that you have the tools at your disposal to transition from a history book to a source your consumers use to meet their need for information.

“The biggest change for news editors and journalists working in the industry today is that breaking news can be reported as it happens.” Says Ruth Belena in an article titled How technological changes have impacted the newspaper industry

Let’s first explore some innovative ways the local newspaper can leverage technology to gather the news.  One of the biggest resources newspapers can take advantage of is their citizens or a form of citizen journalism if you will.  Recognizing that your limited staff can’t possibly cover everything happening in a community, engage your community.  You might consider deputizing members of community like the old west.  One sheriff couldn’t round up all the bad guys, so he deputized his local citizens to assist him in making the town safe.  I’ll let you in on a little secret, they’re already there where the “news” is happening.  They’re taking  pictures, recording video and audio, they’re using social media sites to exchange information, they’re blogging and uploading their pictures and video.  Create a platform that they can easily exchange information with you.  They could potentially provide you with tips on stories and even conduct research to assist with the development of the story.  You as the editor can direct and guide them on the dos and don’ts and ultimately you have the final say on how the information is used.   Your staff has now grown exponentially for little or no cost to the newspaper.

Secondly, let’s look at how the local newspaper can leverage technology to disseminate or distribute the news. Hot technologies are readily available to assist with this function.  The iPad for example is a recent innovation that is a complete game changer.  Imagine if you’re a journalist out in the field working on a story.  You could write the first block of the story for the newspaper and then for the next seven days  you could continue to gather more information, revise, edit, and enhance the original story by adding interviews, video and audio clips while engaging your community to follow that story live.  Another way current technology could be utilized to continue to engage the readers is to create simple low cost blogs that allow updates to various stories throughout the week and even allows for your readers to posts comments engaging them even further.

According to a survey conducted by the Harrison Group and publishing service company Zinio

Tablet users spend nearly 75% more time reading newspapers and newspaper articles and 25% more time reading books.

It is such a game changer that a Danish newspaper showcases the iPad app and currently iPads are not sold in the country…

How can we add unique value to each subscriber? The answer for us is not always more content. It has to include more services. We have to embrace the technological advances to build compelling user experiences. We have to put that content into context and develop a loyal customer base.”

This is an example of a newspaper in a country where the iPad isn’t even available to them yet, but they are already creating the software to enable them to use the technology to their advantage when they finally get it.  That is such forward thinking and example that our local newspapers should follow.

In summary, technology can be your savior or your demise.  When I visit editors to discuss these very topics, I realize they don’t understand this completely and are very apprehensive about making these changes.  My concern is however, if you don’t find a way to leverage technology in your daily operations, you are doomed to failure because there is no market for what you are offering.  So just start small.  I’ve demonstrated that there are numerous ways out there to adapt your current operations to come more in line with what the consumers need.  I can’t emphasize enough that if you just followed up during the week on your stories with a simple blog, this would be a huge step in leveraging technology.  So to borrow a phrase from Darwin, this is really survival of the fittest.  I am hoping you will rise to the occasion and make this necessary transition to stay fit so that you can compete.  If you recognize the role of technology in your business you can not only survive and weather the storm, but you can come out stronger than before.  Next week we’ll be discussing how to build a new business plan.  Until next time…

Happy New Year!

Think outside the newsstand,

Joe

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