It has become an interesting industry to follow in terms of Marketing, Communication, Advertising and Media. In late October I published this Blog posting: New Media Might Not Be Able To Save The Newspaper Industry after the Newspaper Association of America issued a press release that newspaper Websites attracted over 41% of all Internet users and served over 3.5 billion pageviews per month, but were still struggling with how to monetize their properties.
Just yesterday, the The American Press Institute announced an invitation-only, closed-door summit scheduled for November 13th, 2008 with fifty CEO-level executives from the newspaper industry to look at "concrete steps the industry can take to reverse its declines in revenue, profit and shareholder value," according to the news item, API Hosting 'Crisis Summit' for Newspaper Industry, in Editor & Publisher.
"The critical role of journalism can only be preserved if the newspaper industry can come through its current crisis," says former turnaround CEO James B. Shein, now a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management and the person who will lead the summit. "It's important for companies to see how far along the 'crisis curve' they've traveled, and there are concrete steps organizations can take to halt and even reverse that journey. We'll use those tools to illuminate for newspaper industry leaders the urgency of their situation, and lay out the steps they will need to take to begin the renewal process."
It sounds like they are looking at the really big questions. Boiling the ocean is always a tough challenge. Small, incremental change does work (even for huge companies). Here are ten things every newspaper (magazine or other) website can do to build their business by building their community:
1. Link Journalism - Most newspaper websites do not link out to other sites. This walled garden approach is not helping. One, from a pure search engine optimization stand-point, linking out makes tons of sense because there are presently lots of high quality links coming into their properties. This simple action will increase their ranking in the search engines, generate more pageviews and interest. It also speaks to trust and value. By linking out to other sites, newspapers are providing a much better user experience. This was Blogged about over here: Content Is An Organic Linking Process and the term, "link journalism" was coined by the most-excellent Blog, Publishing 2.0.
2. Formatting - Turn those long articles into checklists or break up the content. Use bold to create headers throughout the piece. Highlight the important lines. Italicize the quotes. Reading online is not like reading a newspaper. Make the copy bounce online by adding in simple and effective formatting techniques to make the content "pop" more. Remember, reading online is more like snackable content.
3. Tagging - It is hard to believe that most newspaper sites don't have tags on every page of content. How about tag clouds? Looking at the tags helps the reader identify whether or not they even want to read the whole piece. Also, having tags makes their content (and they have a lot of it) increasingly easier to organize and search.
4. Blog directory - Some (if not all) Journalists are Blogging (be it text, images, audio or video). Many smart newspapers post a Blog directory to let their readers know in one simple and easy area how to connect and find these great additional resources. I've also heard nightmare stories where contributors and freelance writers were not able to post their Blogs in these directories because they were not full-time employees of the Publisher. Readers don't know or care who is a full-time employee and who is freelance. If they like the content and want more of it, newspapers should focus on that goal and ease up on the bureaucracy.
5. Cross promote effectively - How many times have you seen a call to action in print to go online and what you're looking for is either not there or impossible to find? Most newspapers drive readers to their generic website address in hopes that the reader will scour and dig to find the content that took them there. Here's a real newsflash: they will not. Use the Web to get readers to read the print version and use the print version to extend the dialogue and add value online. Simply publishing the printed version online is a cop-out and is not a sustainable business model (as most publishers are quickly realizing).
6. Unique website address - Tying into #5, have unique URLs for the important pages that you are promoting. If it's a guest editorial for Malcolm Gladwell, promote it in the print version like this: www.YourNewspaper.com/gladwell. Tiny URLs and long website addresses with lots of numbers and letter won't cut it. A great and memorable Website URL is smart marketing and promotion.
7. Highlight your contributors - More and more newspapers are bringing in guest editorials or younger contributors. Some popular Bloggers are getting columns or freelance work in traditional print. Highlight them, promote them and get your audience excited about this very new and fresh content. Readers like to connect with the Journalists they read. Humanize them by letting readers see a little bit "behind the curtain."
8. Comments - It's hard to believe that some newspapers still don't allow their readers to comment or add their own perspective. On top of that, when comments are enabled it is very rare that the Journalist who wrote the actual story engages in the comment section. Commenting brings your content to life.
9. Correct mistakes - Craig Silverman over at Regret The Error has a book and Blog all about the mistakes the mass media makes. The website is an amazing platform to correct those errors by turning the permanent record (the print version) into a more organic, fluid and real experience online. This would make the digital version the "real" permanent record by using strikethroughs and updates to ensure that the most recent and accurate accounting of the story is up-to-date. How many times has a media story been updated or changed, but when you go back to the online version, those updates are not reflected - it's simply the correction as a standalone piece that is not linked to the original story. It's unacceptable.
10. Collaborative filtering - This is what makes Amazon work so well. Collaborative filtering recommends other products, articles, etc... based on your current selection. It's that whole, "if you like this, you might like this...". It's the idea of adding a bunch of related links, posts and articles at the bottom of every piece of content and demonstrating to your readers how connected your content is and what else might interest them. Collaborative filtering builds tremendous loyalty and interest.
What else can newspaper and magazine websites do to build their audience and get better, smarter, faster and richer now?
(this Blog post was inspired by hearing that Blogger, mesh conference founder and Globe & Mail Journalist, Matthew Ingram, was named Communities Editor over at the Globe and Mail. Many congrats Matt).