Newspapers: Is It Too Late to Change?

Where I live (British Columbia, Canada), the numbers say it all. At the beginning of 2010 there were 36 local newspapers in the province. By the end of 2015 there were 13, the latest ending a 141-year run. It has been an agonizingly slow end to a industry that has been (at least to this point), unable to find its place in this 21st Century World. They had survived radio, TV, even the arrival of the Internet, but Social Media? Well, that’s a different story.

It’s About Money, Not News.

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Local newspapers have been on the Web for over 15 years or more, but have yet to earn steady and effective revenue from their online presence.

Whether it was an attention grabbing headline, the latest sports scores, looking for a job or checking the obituaries, people used to pick up the morning paper to see what was happening in their community. This was why businesses used to flock to their local paper, so that their products or services could be seen during the daily scan of the headlines. Over the past 10 years or so, as more and more people had those headlines land on their computer desktop and then their mobile devices, businesses started to move away from the print ad world to the digital ad world. In the past few years, that move has become an exodus, as marketers embraced the instant world of targeted marketing and were no longer content waiting for the next issue to hit the newsstands or doorsteps of their consumers. With the flow of advertising dollars changing from a torrent to a trickle, one would have thought that the powers that be in the print industry would have been madly scrambling to find new ways to generate cash flow. Sadly, the sales departments and the local papers focused more on making their print ads bigger and better, using their distribution numbers as a reason to buy, rather than expanding their footprint into the digital space. They even applied print concepts to their Websites, where the ads dominate the space, rather than the news. The “news” they produce is often days old (as many newspapers moved from daily, to only a couple of days a week). Soon, the local rag became less of a newspaper and more of an envelope for flyers, still not making enough to keep their heads above water.

Change? Almost, But Not Quite.

For some reason, the world of print media has been slow on the uptake, when it came to new things. I remember, about 20 years ago, a newspaper publisher telling me that “we’re not worried about the Internet. People will always need their newspapers in depth news”. 15 years ago, I suggested to my local paper, that they should get a Website. “Why?”, said the Editor. “We’re a newspaper, not a chat room”. Less than 10 years ago, I was talking about how quickly this new Social Media thing was catching on. “That thing with all the cats and food on it? What’s that got to do with news?”. At that moment in time there the need to find their place wasn’t quite as obvious, but it was pretty obvious that the technology was moving faster than the industry could have imagined and, today, they are playing a desperate game of catch-up. Thing is, even when they got on band wagon, they’re attempting to play the same old game on an all new medium. Push the news to get readers in a one-way conversation, all geared to getting that reader to pick up that newspaper on their doorstep and open it, for the sake of their advertisers. Where I live, a volley of tweets go out, the day before the newspaper arrives, featuring the key headlines, all linked to the news articles on their Website. It’s great that they finally reached that point, but now I have seen what I wanted to see and have no need to pick up that newspaper, that has all of that expensive advertising in it. Uh-oh.

Don’t Change. Shift!

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The Vancouver Sun has been on YouTube since 2007, yet in a local market of over 1 Million people, it only has slightly over 1,000 subscribers to its channel.

Did you hear the story of the young fiddle player who made $6 Million Dollars, last year, and she doesn’t even have a label? Almost all of her revenue comes through YouTube Ads. How about the kid that made over $1.3 Million, in a year, for opening toys and giving his opinion on them, on YouTube? Almost all of that revenue comes from sponsors and YouTube Ad revenue. They have content that attracts a lot of people and they generated their incomes through their channels, rather than directly from the consumers of their content.

Is it such a far fetched idea that newspapers, especially local news papers, couldn’t find similar success? In many communities, the local newspaper was the only “media” in town, so much of the local news was found through them and, to an extent, still is. With a known brand and local reach, is it really so hard to see the local newspaper move from mostly print space, with a smattering of digital, to a mostly digital space, with a smattering of print? Shift from a local “newspaper” to a local “news agency”? Create ads for clients that land on digital doorsteps, as
well as cement ones? Adopt all the tools and features that other businesses are using to market online, but do it on behalf of the advertising client, such as targeted Facebook Ads with trackable Facebook Analytics, to prove the ads success rate? Produce daily video news clips for the online user (who, apparently, have the attention span of a gnat with ADHD, anyway), and a weekly print version with more “in-depth” coverage for those who wish to sit and enjoy the smell of newsprint, with their morning coffee? Leverage this new generation of digital journalists, to keep the traditional print medium alive, while the old press hounds show them how to dig for the story?

Granted, the future prospect of the local newspapers is grim, with most of them having been gobbled up by large media corporations, who are fairly indifferent to the impact on a community, caused by the loss of its own news media. Still, there is a lot to be said for the newspaper publisher that looks the future square in the eye and says  “Stop the Presses! We’re gonna try something new!”.

Social Media Camp is excited to have Jesse Brown, creator of the very popular Podcast and Blog CanadaLand, as one of this year’s Keynotes. With experience as a reporter and content creator in both print and radio, his story of transitioning into purely digital space is both educational and enlightening, considering the significant backlash he faced from the traditional media outlets. Be sure to get your tickets for this years event, as his story is one not to be missed!

Sean Smith

Sean is Managing Partner in ThatSocialMediaGuy.com, a Social Media consulting company based in Campbell River, BC. Sean has almost 20 years of experience in the IT industry, from a HelpDesk Manager to business owner. Sean has been active on Social Media platforms, since joining LinkedIn in 2005. Since then he has consulted on the development of Social Media strategies for a wide variety of businesses, from retail to tourism, instructed at workshops, been a guest and keynote speaker at various conferences, has been working as the tech/start-up author for Steamfeed.com and has recently become the Editor of the Social Media Camp Blog.

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