I just finished reading two very thought provoking posts by Bill Wyman on five key reasons why newspapers are failing complete with advice on how to run a chain of papers (hat tip Mark Potts).The five central issues he outlines are:
- Customers don't pay for news. They never paid for news - the ads paid for news
- Newspapers are the product of monopolistic thinking - "Newspapers used to be their reader’s de facto window to the world, but it was just a quirk—their monopolies—that made them that."
- Timidity doesn't work on the web
- The staffs of the papers, from management down to the reporters, deserve a big share of the blame - "They needed to learn the new era’s tools, experiment with and test a new medium, take advantage of its speed and immediacy to take their place in society even deeper into peoples’ lives."
- Newspaper webs sites suck - I concur with this one wholeheartedly. I lost count of the times I pulled similar search dead ends, or had to hunt for information and use Google as a back door into those sites to find what I was looking for. As for the statement that navigation is inward looking, built to satisfy the news organization, and not the user - that is spot on.
The challenges faced by newspapers today are the same many businesses face:
- addiction to exponential growth - in the newspapers' case this was created essentially by delivering ads to people's homes, with some editorial wrapped around them
- inability to compete when starting life as monopolies - this translated into unwillingness to step forward and invent new ways to step up for readers on the web, for example
- lack of understanding that media is information and it should be targeted to the needs of the reader - and today that's weaved with technology - and that the user should have control of the experience
If coverage in the age of old media often meant commingling advertising and editorial, as mentioned in part of Wyman's post, what constitutes coverage in new media? Kendall Allen asked a similar question on MediaPost where both the writer and readers agreed that news is now in the hands of those who help make it or experience it first hand.
Hence the rush to invite lots of bloggers to events and get togethers, or send them product samples in addition to press releases, in the hopes they will cover a product or new service - trying to make up in the sheer number of those pitched, the scale that news organizations reached.
In an article about The New York Times on Vanity Fair, first time contributing editor Mark Bowden writes about news on the Web (emphasis mine):
"Those who grew up using the Internet, which now includes a full generation of Americans, are expert browsers. It's not that they have short attention spans. If anything, many of them are more sophisticated and better informed than their parents. They are certainly more independent. Instead of absorbing the news and opinion packaged expertly by professional journalists, they search out only the information they want, and are less and less likely to devote themselves to one primary site, in part because it is less efficient, and in part because not doing so is liberating. The Internet has disaggregated the news."
And so it has disaggregated coverage as well. Let's go back to that group of bloggers you invited to your event. Let's say you did a good job and selected those professionals with an eye towards their areas of interest overlapping with what you intend for them to cover.
Even if you disagree that blogging can be a profession, you must concede that some of us who blog are professionals in our day jobs - and that we may have a slightly different focus as our job is not to publish your news. In fact, for many this is not a job at all, it's a passion.
So each blogger may do it their own way, if they write about the event at all. Some may just tweet about it with pictured uploaded from an iPhone. Some may talk about it in some other way on their blogs by highlighting the kinds of things they liked about the event.
There is something unique however that happens with coverage on blogs that doesn't happen as much or as regularly with coverage in online news media properties - engagement. Because of the relationships bloggers have with their readers, the content at their sites may have a stronger effect - the stickiness built in the relationships - and more likely it will be passed along to the right readers who may be inclined to take action or notice.
Public relations agencies that view the work they need to do to reach bloggers as undesired in place of a shotgun approach, may want to reconsider their thinking in view of the potentially stronger long tail that one single post will have. Online coverage is harder to get because it's more work - it takes more than just doing a quick interview or issuing a blanket release.
But, it turns out that online coverage may not be about number of clippings or mentions as a focus. One single post, well timed, might do the rest. This is a kind of influence news organizations relinquished and resisted by never fully embracing the online medium. Gate keeping is not going to bring that influence back. It was the advertisers who paid for the news - readers never did.
You may wonder why this matters to you - if news coverage is part of your marketing communications strategy, it should.