A fascinating article from The New York Times titled, MediaNews Sees Bad Timing On Newspapers, Not Bad Bets, by Richard Perez-Pena (published December 15th, 2008) looks at how the MediaNews Group bought newspapers like The Mercury News at the worst possible time. But, beyond timing, this article documents both the lesson and paradox that most traditional media will have to face (or have faced) because of the Internet.
The following three paragraphs follow each other towards the end of the article, and it highlights one of the biggest challenges that traditional media is presently grappling with (and the state of the economy is not helping):
"Many current and former Mercury News executives say that a lack of investment by Knight Ridder and MediaNews has given the paper a fairly ordinary website that has been slow to adopt practices that keep readers coming back many times a day, like publishing articles online well before they appear in print, updating them frequently, blogging and posting videos.
'The answer for newspapers has to lie in building their websites better and better, and promote, promote, promote,' said Mr. Riggs, who was the Mercury Newspaper publisher under both companies. 'We haven't seen that.'
Mr. Butler, the editor, said that with money tight, Web improvements have to wait. 'Until or unless we see that those things pay for themselves, we make a serious mistake in focusing too much on that,' he said."
To add insult to injury:
"He said that even in the heart of Silicon Valley, until recently his newsroom used a 14-year-old computer system that was incompatible with those at nearby MediaNews papers."
And you thought Marketers had problems.
For this media channel to survive, they need to get better at the Web, but until the Web can prove that it's a revenue generator and not an investment, these companies simply don't have the wherewithal to move forward.
Does this remind you of what the music industry did to itself?
Instead of embracing the digital channel, the music industry forged on to figure out new ways to encourage people to pay for plastic (even though the fans didn't want it). Same thing here with the newspaper industry. Rather than investing in the tools that will take them forward, according to Mr. Butler, they would much prefer to print newspapers and focus on what they have been doing all along.
It's going to get increasingly difficult for the mass population to feel any degree of sympathy for these folks moving forward.
"The top 10 newspapers in the US collectively saw a 16% year-over-year increase in unique visitors to their websites in 2008, as well as a 27% increase in the total number of overall visits, according to data from Nielsen Online."
Many people have Blogged on and on about the woes of the newspaper industry (I am no exception to this). The truth is, I don't want newspapers to go away. I love newspapers and I enjoy reading them - just like I enjoy buying and listening to music, but our collective habits have changed, and if these industries don't pull up their pants and do something, the next Craigslist or iTunes is just around the corner. This time, it won't just hurt them, these next generation tools will kill them.
If you were running one of these newspapers, what would you do?