Monday, January 05, 2009

(Not so) Happy New Year

To start out 2009, the Guardian's Roy Greenslade has some brutal predictions -- mostly UK oriented, but you can find a lot of U.S. truth, too.

At least one major regional owner will go under. Even if there is no further consolidation, there will be "accommodations" between rival publishers. More, many more, local titles will be closed or merged. More freesheets will vanish. Needless to say, more journalists will lose their jobs. As for the national newspaper industry, it is probable that a couple of publishers will throw in the towel. I somehow doubt that their titles will vanish altogether, but that must be a possibility too.

He hits the bull's eye at the bottom of the column:

Meanwhile, and here is the rub, necessary online innovation is being stifled. There is a lack of genuine inventiveness about how to forge a new form of journalism, because companies are too focused on dealing with commerce. Many regional and local paper websites are so clunky that they cannot hope to gain new audiences, let alone retain the current ones. Staff required to "service" print and web on a 24-hour basis are not given the time and space to experiment and there is precious little encouragement from managers who are interested only in bottom lines.

Similarly, many national paper websites are chasing ratings rather than innovating - in the long term, building trust and credibility is far more important. The importance of online journalism cannot be stressed too often. It is foolish to call it the future because the future is now. ...

It is also sobering to realise that even if a national paper were to close - whether the Independent at one end of the market, or the Daily Star at the other - rivals will not benefit much. When Murdoch pulled the plug on Today in 1995, when it was selling almost 600,000 a day, the majority of readers vanished into thin air. Now, of course, they will vanish into cyberspace.

The fight that counts in 2009 is the one for online eyeballs seeking news and informed comment, not for the passive audience handed a freesheet with the minimum of journalistic merit or public benefit.

Patrick Smith at Paid Content:UK, a Guardian subsidiary, is as brutal, if not more so.

And a commenter on that site points to "Five Fatal Flaws that are killing local Internet Plays" by Dave Chase (the commenter credits Jeff Jarvis, but it was Chase's I found). Chase says, as I have written, that at least half the job of "saving" newspapers - in whatever form - is retooling the sales staff. But he gets into a lot more specifics.

I know firsthand from our work in Hartsville that his No. 3, inability to quantify the value of the audience, is a big problem, as is the mismatch in selling skills, or as he calls it, "Farming Hunters."

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