How to Save Newspapers (But do we even care?)
Newspapers are struggling to figure out a new business model that gets all of us to pay for news, but that’s pretty tough in a day when we all have so many free choices. My own newspaper, the Minneapolis StarTribune, is one I still receive in paper form which, unfortunately, didn’t arrive this morning. As a consequence, for the first time I actually looked at their ad online about their new iPad app which will run me “only $3/week” if I opt to get my newspaper in this way.
Here’s the thing: If I am going to get my news from our local paper, there is no more efficient means of consuming local news than one printed on paper. I can flip through the paper quickly, read what’s interesting to me, stop and look at ads that I find potentially useful, and when done toss it in my recycle bin.
Yes, there are huge downsides to a paper beyond the obvious tree wasting, truck delivering, printing-press inefficient creating, news being stale, sorts of problems. But the biggest problem in a day of social media, and an acceleration in news delivery, is that I can’t tweet articles I find interesting or relevant from a non-digital news source, save important articles for later reading or reference to my Instapaper account, or email an article I think a colleague or client might find of interest.
Early every morning, after taking the dog out and grabbing breakfast, I read the print StarTribune. I then sit down with my coffee and iPad and skim the few hundred articles which have appeared in my blog feed reader. Next I go through several of the news apps I have (see the screenshot below) as time allows.
When we talk about news, the importance of having strong news organizations and whether or not they even care if newspapers survive, many of my younger tech colleagues argue that paying for news on paper means those who do get “old news” and “only Grandpas still get the news on paper.” The biggest argument is that “if the news is important enough…it will find ME.“
That last statement is all about two things:
1) Being in an interconnected world where the important stuff bubbles up in to social networks, and is spread by friends and those whom we follow, means breaking news and stories we should read are foisted upon us by those whom we pay attention to and thus the news they spread.
2) News is now aggregated and we all have an ENORMOUS WEALTH OF NEWS available to us at our fingertips. Take a look at screenshot below from an iPad app called News360, one that aggregates news from just about every newspaper and source out there (including newswires). It’s an app I’ve come to rely upon to get multiple source perspectives on important stories.
I would argue that the explosion of news sources—and the instant availability of so many of them that are free—means that it is not only very difficult for a StarTribune (or any newspaper) to get people to pay for an online subscription…but do any of us even care anymore?
In the screenshot above, many of these apps are free: CNN, News360, NPR, and so on. Many are pay like the New York Times, though my NYT Sunday paper subscription gets me access to the iPad and iPhone apps. BBC News is free. Zite and Flipboard bring in (mostly) blog and other RSS feeds which I can customize, but both are incredibly useful.
Most of the major papers (e.g., Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post) have all gone paywall, but there is so much out there that is still free that even I, a guy who is a self-proclaimed news and information junkie, is increasingly reluctant to pay for subscriptions when I get so much for free.
THE SMART THING NEWSPAPERS ARE DOING
The smart thing newspapers are doing? These same major newspapers (as well as major magazines like BusinessWeek, WIRED and others I receive) are allowing print subscribers to also have access to their iPad app for no additional charge. I think this is a brilliant strategy to enable former print subscribers to slowly migrate toward an iPad or Android-based tablet as an eventual replacement for all print. Though I’m not certain they’ll be able to keep the presses running while that transition occurs, it’s nonetheless the only possible course of action in my view.
I fear the death or slow demise of journalism, and in particular investigative journalism. Without the critical mass and power major papers amassed when they were the primary outlet for news and commentary, it will become increasingly difficult for the press to be a check-and-balance to political power. That’s why I still want to pay for news, but am not sure I care if ALL of these news outlets survive.
ACQUISITIONS AND CONSOLIDATION
After all, in a market like Minneapolis/St. Paul do we need FOUR television station evening and 10pm news shows? Two newspapers/websites/tablet apps? (the StarTribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press). Tough questions, hard-to-come-by answers, but all I know is that I do care about news, deeply care about investigative journalism wielded by powerful, balanced news organizations, but don’t really care about who that is or where it might come from going forward.
Perhaps, like what happens in any industry in need of consolidation, the major news organizations will begin a series of mergers and acquisitions and we’ll end up with even more powerful entities. Or perhaps some of the emerging models of news gathering (e.g., The Uptake or NPR as public media) are the answer.
What do you think?
About Steve Borsch
Connecting the Dots Podcast
Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.