A Simple Proposal for the Survival of Newspapers

As a publisher of a five-day a week newspaper, I operated on the theory that news was like the ante in a poker game. You have to have it to play, no one applauds you for having it, but you pay a price if you don’t. In poker, winning is based on what you do […]

Last Updated: March 2, 2009 @ 5:52 PM

As a publisher of a five-day a week newspaper, I operated on the theory that news was like the ante in a poker game. You have to have it to play, no one applauds you for having it, but you pay a price if you don’t.

In poker, winning is based on what you do when you are in the game. In the news business, winning is what you do with the news, when you have it.

News no longer enjoys the value it once did, for two reasons: Once someone knows something, it is no longer news, therefore of little to no value; and news is now available free through countless sources — so why should someone pay for it? It is a commodity.

What do you do if you’re in the news business? Get out of it. There is no upside to news today.

So what should newspapers do? Redefine their business — and exploit the two technologies that have turned their business upside down.

Digital technology has transformed words, sounds and images into one single universal language that defines all of them as simply INFORMATION. Newspapers, magazines, music, games, film, television and books are just analogs for information in the digital vocabulary.

The Internet is a second universal language for distribution of information. Regardless of how the information is described in its analog state, to processors the world over it is just information. More important, on the Internet, are things like storage capacity, devices, bandwidth, pipes and protocols.

With these two languages creative minds are empowered to write, compose, perform, record and distribute whatever inspires them to whoever is interested in what they have to say.

In the Internet era it is said universally that information is free, or should be. It certainly costs little to nothing to send it around the globe. But is it true that all information is the same? Is a song the same as a film? Is a book the same as a television show? Is a newspaper simply news on a printed page?

Obviously not. So why are some forms of information paid for and others not?

Value. The answer lays in the value the user, consumer, reader, viewer or recipient places on the “information.” It is incredible that 8 notes and 26 letters can be transformed into a never-ending supply of songs, books, plays and films. It is how they are arranged and by who that determines their value in the marketplace.

Attend a conference, a seminar or a business extension school course. Think you will get in for free? Think again. And, what will you learn and who will you learn it from? The very same people quoted and interviewed by most major news organizations — but in the paper or on their websites the information is OK to be free?

Unfortunately the newspaper industry has not yet figured out how to maximize their franchise in information. News is not their future. What with bloggers, twitterers, podcasters and websites filing everything from everywhere the volume of “news,” relevant or not, is overwhelming.

No, for serious news organizations the answer is shaping, packaging and distributing an exclusive information-based product centered on the most critical events and not found anywhere else. That means change.

Going forward in a world where information is everywhere and all of it free, editors need to edit more vertically. In on-line parlance they need to drill down — edit stories based on what else is connected but might not be apparent. Given the nature of any current story what could be added that might make a reader better prepared, more organized or more competitive when armed with the value added information.

The result becomes the value add the reader would be willing to pay for. They pay for the editing, not the news. With the resources most major news organizations have access to, no blogger, pod caster, aggregator or free website could possibly compete.