A reporter interviewed me this week for an article about the future of local newspapers. At first, he referred to the terms ‘newspaper’ and ‘journalism’ interchangeably, and I clarified that the lack of a definition for journalism is what hobbles many conversations about the future of newspapers.
Newspapers are not a product, they are a service. I talked about the many ways local newspapers served their readers 20 years ago:
- Local news
- Information & announcements
- Connection to a community
And that’s just to name a few of the rare things that newspapers used to deliver. Some of these services are no longer rare, and can be found in compelling ways in other places.
20 or 30 years ago, when the newspaper arrived at our house, it was split up amongst all the family members:
- Dad got the finance section.
- My brother got the sports section.
- I got the classifieds and arts section.
- My mom got the coupons.
But today, my 71 year old father doesn’t rush to the curb each morning for financial news, he constantly checks an app on his iPhone instead.
As I took the conversation in these directions, the reporter kept asking, "But how do we save the NEWSPAPER?" He wanted to know how we save the printed word on paper – the kind that comes off on your fingers. As if, somehow, the paper itself was why anyone ever purchased a newspaper.
I was confused by this, considering how it belittles the hard work of every newspaper reporter – that their work was not about serving a community, connecting them with information, ideas, entertainment and each other – but about paper.
To save newspapers, I shared ideas about listening to the needs of a local community, about expanding into new product and service offerings. That, the newspaper itself was a means to an end – serving that community. When the focus becomes to save the newspaper, and not serve the community, neither can be accomplished.
And that’s a disservice to all involved.
As newspapers, magazines and other forms of media look to the future and consider not just how they can survive, but how they can thrive, they need to consider their role as a service provider. That there are many ways to serve their market:
- Discerning rare information from commoditized information.
- Connecting people with ideas that solve critical problems.
- Pushing people’s careers and businesses forward.
- Enabling commerce.
- Making people smile.
This may or may not involve a printed page. At the very least – it should involve a multifaceted business strategy and a stable of products and services. Few companies can find growth banking on a single product offering – so why do newspapers bank on just the printed page, and perhaps an online facsimile of that page?
I love seeing how magazine brands diversify, into events, training, education courses, communities, and remixed products and services that LOOK nothing like a magazine, but embrace the mission of SERVING their market.
The value is what is important, not the facade. When we get stuck on the package before considering the value, you suffer the same fate as the music industry – easily upended by newer upstarts who started first with value, listening, and engaging – not packaging, broadcasting and controlling.
Clearly, I don’t have the answers, and quite frankly, no one does. But it’s always helpful to bounce ideas off of someone else. If there is any way you think I can help, give me a call anytime: 973-981-8882. You can also follow me on Twitter: @DanBlank
The problem is that the 'services' that we used to get from either newspapers and magazines are now increasingly provided by a myriad of other media. Newspapers, particularly, are struggling to determine what business they should be in and how they can deliver value that people are prepared to pay for.
Hi Dan, This is interesting but, for me, what you are saying underscores the importance of CONTEXT over CONTENT and explains why content alone is not enough. What I learned from your post is that the old context of newspapers being delivered on paper used to be enough but now different people are seeking different formats of context and if they can't connect using their preferred context then they are left out in the cold.
I'd like to hear what you have to say about context vs. content because I do not think that there is enough conversation on this topic. Content may be kind. But context is queen. And it's the number one key to successful service in today's rapidly evolving marketplace.
Great point. I think what hobbles many newspaper efforts is that newspapers keep trying to find a way to get people to pay for general news.
Have a great weekend.
Christina – YES! I saw your follow up post on this, loved it. Any business's products/services need to be at the right place, right time – as you said, the right CONTEXT. I try to sum it up as being in the context of providing solutions or smiles. Both are highly valuable.
Thank you so much! I hope you have a great weekend too!
Interesting piece, Dan. As an avid reader of newspapers for many years, I still get 2 of them delivered. Almost every day I try to work out why I keep spending the $$, why holding the paper in my hands (I take this as the context) makes such a difference to reading the column by Tom Friedman or Paul Krugman (the content) which is readily available online. Actually, it's a pretty tough question to answer. But as the weeks go by, the service that's provided by these papers looks more and more anachronistic to me. Even the “paper” itself is starting to look like an artifact from another age. Should be interesting…
Thanks for sharing your experience Joel. I only recently cancelled my New York Times subscription. Yes, having it laying around the living room made it easy to pick up and read. Easy to know where to start and when I was done. Easy to start a conversation with my wife over an article. It did create a context in my living room.
My iPad arrives on Thursday, and I have to say, I am hoping for a similar type of context – the “lean back” thing that Apple talks about. I plan on leaving it on the table in the living room, so that it will be used in a casual manner, and be something we can share. We'll see!
Have a great weekend.