The Internet: the 21st century newspaper

I recently got a landline at my place and within a few days started receiving telemarketer sales calls. What is so surprising is that I received at least three separate calls from the Mercury News in which they were soliciting me to sign up for a one month trial period where they could survey me on their publication. The first time I mentioned to them that I received my news by going online, but it seemed that the Mercury News may have pressured their representatives to keep selling the printed piece. I’m very shocked that newspapers are not fully engaging their audience on the web.

With newspaper circulations generally on the decline over the past 20+ years, I’m sure that newspaper owners are worried about how they will achieve a profit off of their product and advertisement revenue. Well why not by diverting your funds online. Yes, there will always be some percentage of your audience base that likes to have a tangible piece of news that they can read in the morning or on their commute into work, but a growing number of the general public have always been getting their news via RSS feeds, blogs, or perhaps even through email and visiting various websites – including the newspaper’s website itself. So why not publish your stories and sell advertisement online?

In a 2007 study conducted by the Bivings Group, newspapers provided some interesting findings:

  • The use of RSS feeds has increased by 21% within a one year timespan.
  • Twenty-nine percent (29%) of the nation’s top 100 newspapers require users to register while online before receiving full information.
  • The number & quality of reporter blogs has increased as well with 95% of newspapers having one blogging reporter and 93% of those blogs allow comments.
  • One-third of newspapers now allow comments on articles. This represents a 14% improvement on 2006 statistics, when only 19 percent of papers allowed comments on articles.

So why aren’t more newspapers moving towards creating an interactive publication? People are more interested these days in becoming part of the story and reporting it. People don’t want to read news that is already outdated when they wake up in the morning. A couple of benefits that I can see out of this…if we think more strategically:

  • People will not have to worry about recycling the paper after reading – they’ll know that it’s not going to wind up in a landfill somewhere.
  • The news will have a better chance of being up-to-date.
  • Newspapers can sell more ad space and provide better targeting to advertisers because of more efficient web analytics versus being in print. By selling online, newspapers can offer these ad spaces based off of the number of impressions which will allow more than one advertiser to be seen at any particular placement.
  • By creating a registration process, newspapers can offer better service to those who choose to pay for exclusive news (e.g. promotions, full articles, data/research, etc.) and in return, the newspaper will be able to gain a better understanding of their loyal reader demographic to share with advertisers and interested stakeholders.
  • The web allows newspapers to share their news with additional interactive features – instead of just having print with images, articles online could include video interviews with subjects or even have a photo gallery to highlight a major story.
  • There are more ways to promote a newspaper within the same medium versus simply promoting the publication in other newspapers or in another medium like TV, radio, magazines, etc. Newspapers could advertise on other websites or interact with readers through Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, email marketing, etc.

And as we have begun to see on some of the mainstream media, the public has become more involved with the news going on. Just look at the success of iReporter that was started by CNN.com. By using cameras and cell phones, the public are creating news and looking for outlets to showcase it. If newspapers don’t support it, then they’ll just be swept under the wave of new media journalism. The Internet has become the new form of newspapers. Next time a telemarketer calls you and asks if you want to receive a printed piece, make sure that they know they’re a little outdated.