10 Strategic Changes the Newspapers Must Make to Reinvent Themselves

In recent posts I pointed out many of the challenges the newspaper industry is facing:

  • Subscription and advertising revenues are on the decline
  • Attempts to move to the internet have had lackluster results
  • Operations have been cut to bare bones
  • Analysts have for the most part abandoned the industry

In the recent PEW report State of the News Media 2011


“…newspapers suffered continued revenue declines last year—an unmistakable sign that the structural economic problems facing newspapers are more severe than those of other media. When the final tallies are in, we estimate 1,000 to 1,500 more newsroom jobs will have been lost—meaning newspaper newsrooms are 30% smaller than in 2000.”

According to an article from the American Press Institute:

The newspaper industry is at a strategic inflection point – a period of disruptive changes that threaten its current way of doing business with no clear future path. The threats come from many directions but are manifesting themselves in the form of declining circulation, rising costs and downward revenue pressure. These trends show no sign of reversing themselves.The industry’s very survival is dependent on its ability to reframe completely the way it does business, and find new ways to attract and keep customers.”
The war against the newspaper industry is mounting—as are new-media competitors focused on local market share. The threat is real and the competitors are unrelenting.  But all is not lost! There is still time to be disruptive and thrive—that is if the newspaper industry does not let their legacy business model stand in the way of seizing new opportunities.

The following are the 10 strategic changes the newspapers must make to reinvent themselves:
1. Flip the Model. Print is dead—well, not yet, and not entirely. The digital world has changed the way information is distributed and consumed. It’s time that the newspaper industry think outside of the ‘legacy’ box. Creative and innovative solutions will happen when the newspaper moves their online business to the center of the business model and their traditional print vehicle is used to enhance the online strategy. Only then will the newspaper be able to formulate strategies that generate new and sustainable streams of revenue.
2. Flip the Focus. The newspaper continues to focus on creating content and then pushing it to readers and subscribers. In today’s world of hyper-information, content is increasingly omnidirectional–a trend that will not go away anytime soon. In order to thrive again, the newspaper needs to shift their focus and mindset to incorporate local conversations and community engagement into their content strategy. Ultimately, the newspaper must reposition themselves as the local central resource  and destination for information and community engagement.
3. Leverage Assets. In Sun Tzu’s classic The Art of War, he tells us that to be successful requires careful strategy and expert perception, superior subtlety and technique, and skillful application of your assets and attributes. It’s no longer simply about excellence in journalism or the ability to produce and deliver information. Newspapers need to recognize is that their biggest assets and unfair competitive advantage are their trusted brand and their relationships in their local market.  They must use these long-earned assets to build a barrier of entry for the new-media giants who continue to chip away at local market-share.
4. Engage the Community. Professional journalism is respected and appreciated but no longer the only source of news and information in the local community. People today want access to real and raw content (stories, conversations, commentary, pictures, etc.), generated by people in their own local communities.  Content today is as much about the local conversation as it is professional journalism. Local newspapers are best positioned to create a quality hybrid content model—where professional and community-generated content co-exist.  Local content that peaks interest online can greatly enhance the local print edition experience.  In the end, the newspaper industry may even realize an increase in print sales and readership because of renewed interest.
5. Make it Live. Real-time communication is becoming an ever-increasing part of our online daily routine. The newspaper cannot expect to drive continuous interest from a static online publication that accompanies a static print publication. A real-time component generates curiosity and encourages community engagement to increase online hang-time, which directly translates into increased advertising revenue. It’s vital that the newspaper, as part of its overall strategy, includes a social component where local residents can engage and interact in real-time conversations.
6. Bring It to the People. People are getting a large (and ever-increasing) percentage of their information from a myriad of online social media destinations. As a local and central information resource, the newspaper needs to extend their offering by driving localized external social media content into their local online destination.  The most popular and interesting social media content can be published back into the print edition.  This strategy will further promote the newspaper’s new role as the ‘local information resource.’  Rather than searching across multiple social media sites for interesting content, the community can simply turn to the newspaper’s local online destination—a venerable one-stop shop for local social media content.
7. Make it Viral. Social destinations are the most successful destinations on the web today. People connect with others who share similar interests and experiences.  Connecting and sharing with others creates a viral effect and fosters local relationships within organizations, neighborhoods, schools, shops, clubs, etc. People ‘want’ a local social destination, where they can connect and communicate with others in their local community. Local newspapers are part of the fabric of the community and the most obvious choice to offer such an online local social destination.
8. Create New Revenue Models. Newspapers are already uniquely positioned for dominance in local markets. Now it’s time for the newspaper to optimize revenue by fully-utilizing its in-house sales force, adopting performance-driven models, and extending advertising packages with new and innovative local ad cross-platform models.  In addition, newspapers need to position themselves to swiftly capitalize on emerging revenue models as they appear.  Offering a full range of advertising packages and models gives every local advertiser the opportunity to participate regardless of budgetary constraints.
9. Engage and Invigorate Local Business. Local businesses are a vital component of the local community. The newspaper has an opportunity to help local businesses extend beyond their business boundaries to become a ‘resource’ for the community. Using the newspaper’s new ‘local marketing platform’, local businesses can become part of the local conversation—informing, educating, and entertaining their community–building trust and retention. The local advertising model shifts, creating a win-win solution for everyone in the community.
10. Act Now! Time is NOT the newspaper’s friend. The newspaper industry has a ‘window’ of opportunity, but that window is narrowing. Staying the course is no longer an option as new-media competitors dig deeper into local markets.  The newspaper industry needs to act fast, leveraging their assets to create barriers for new-media companies.  Change is hard, and scary–especially in a business that hasn’t fundamentally changed in over 300 years (Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick is said to be the first newspaper published in America, printed in Boston on September 25, 1690), but change they must. Change is no longer a nice-to-do, but a ‘must-do.’

Any ideas you’d like to share?  Comments are encouraged!