November 25, 2006
Focusing on the Local: How Professional Journalists Should Go Back to School

Mike with Techdirt had an interesting piece on Monday about how newspapers should look to college newspapers for the answers to their problems and not portals.

Considering the fact that I've written twice in the past two days newspaper journalism, I thought Mike's piece was worth taking a look at.

Mike suggests that the industry's approach has been "stuck in a pre-digital age," pointing to one newspaper man's recent suggestion to "embargo breaking news from the web" for 24 hours. He points to several interesting journalism projects over the past year such as involving communities in the news-gathering process more heavily (I would include the Reuters Second Life Bureau and The Washington Post mashups, and--for broadcast--the CNN Exchange focus and the Channel One/ABC deal as well. It's obvious, though, that the problems are acute for print journalism more so than broadcast--not for content, since I would say print journalism as a whole is giving better coverage than broadcast, but just in trying to find their financial footing and understand how to use the modern convergence culture to their advantage rather than painting themselves as victims of technology and rather try to stick their heads in the sand.)

He points out, though, that newspapers should look back to college papers for some of the most innovative ideas. And it echoes the sentiment I have had for a while: that newspapers should do "what they do best: focusing on a local community." He points out that college newspapers are staying relevant because they are giving coverage to something specific. "The success of the papers is that they are extremely relevant to the readers in that community. They don't try to be all things to all people, but are focused on serving a need that is less well met by others."

See MTV Networks' purchase of college online newspaper publisher Y2M for proof that the college newspaper market is considered a lucrative possibility, and many of these papers are run independently from the university. I've written about this need for a focus on the local in newspapers a few times in the past, such as here and here.

Earlier today, I wrote about Yahoo!'s deal with a consortium of more than 150 newspapers to provide branches for online job classifieds and plans for that deal to substantially grow over time to increase the ability newspapers have to increase online revenue. I wrote, "Yahoo! has launched aggressively into providing services that bridge the divide between online advertising and the 'traditional' advertising markets, such as television and radio and print. Coming after Google's deal to sell ads through its Web site for 50 top newspapers, the massive group of newspapers who have signed on for Yahoo!'s services is impressive and gives it a strong market lead--and significant press--about its insertion into the newspaper/online advertising market for classified ads."

Mike writes about the deal that, "While this may be better than nothing, some see it as a sign of surrender for years of failed strategies, rather than a real comprehensive strategy for taking the news business to the next level." Particularly, his comments are based on a commentary from Vin Crosbie from Digital Deliverance, who wrote, "Welcome to the wholesale surrender of major American newspaper companies to the search engines! The chairmen of many of these newspaper companies are claiming the deals represent victories or advantages for their newspapers. Their claims are hardly true. The deals instead represent their failures during the past ten years."

And, yesterday, I wrote about Drake Bennett's recent Boston Globe piece about the potential dangers of private millionaire or billionaire owners becoming the saviors of journalism. I wrote, "This question of whether entrepreneurs will be the saviors of print journalism or will take them further from their objective goals is an intriguing one. And in the meantime, journalists everywhere are questioning how to define convergence and what convergence means for educating the next generation of journalists. More than that, perhaps, the question is how to develop an economically viable model for utilizing the benefits of convergence and user-generated content."

Thanks to Joshua Green for sending Mike's post to me.