Cooperation isn't just an 11-letter word
Steve Yelvington has put up a good post on the implications for newspapers and other media companies of the Open Social API standard for social networking sites.
In short, this is another opportunity. As he writes:
Given the magnitude of the change in Web consumption behavior brought about by social networking sites, newspaper companies need to think about how their content, tools and services might interoperate with these standards.Question: Will we blow it again?
The answer has to come in the form of cooperation. Just as the time of the lone-wolf journalist has largely passed (at least in media companies, though a case can be made that bloggers continue that honored tradition), so has passed the time of lone-wolf media companies in an age when creating and deploying technology is critical.
A few organizations have the financial muscle and the will to create new apps for this business. Morris Communications and the Washington Post come to mind. Others have the muscle but either aren't using it or are keeping their lights under a basket (I'm thinking of Gannett, Cox, AP, Media News and a few others). We don't hear much in this area, either, from the leading industry groups such as the NAA and the NNA. API might be a natural for this, created by publishers to centralize industry training and professional development, but note that "research" is not among the things it lists, although it did produce the NewspaperNext report.
But the reality is that most of this nation's newspapers are not large or chain-owned. They are not necessarily daily. And most need help dealing with the digital world to continue staying viable. (Yes, clearly there are small-paper success stories, such as Lawrence, Kan., and the content system it developed, Django. But Lawrence is far from typical in this industry.)
What the industry needs is a skunk works. As part of that, companies should be willing to share, as in open source, relevant apps, widgets, solutions, etc. they have developed.
I'd propose doing that through Newsplex, the newsroom laboratory we have at the University of South Carolina. The skunk works would serve not only to research new applications but as a clearinghouse for those developed elsewhere that could help the industry generally.
But just having the apps is not going to be enough. I've traveled to and worked with enough small papers to know that just getting a decent online site up and running -- and keeping it current -- is taxing enough. With social media, mobile services, and who knows what else coming at them, I doubt most will be able to handle it with alacrity.
This is where press associations come in. These state-level organizations need to get into this game. I continue to believe that press associations can serve as mini-cooperatives for technology. By creating technology cooperatives for members, and thus sharing the costs of maintenance and support, they can help smaller newspapers compete in the digital arena.
They already do it on the ad side. Are they willing to take the next step on the technology side? If anyone's interested, contact me and let's discuss where we can go with this.