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