I have a soft spot for newspapers, and simultaneously believe that almost all of them are so badly run they’re killing themselves. By now, you’d think they’d have figured out the Internet, but most of them seem to agree the Internet is the thing that’s killing them but it’s the thing that could have saved them, if only...
If only...It gets tired to hear that after 10 or 20 years.
So watching The Washington Post’s efforts with its digital efforts, regardless of what a money pit it might have been/still is/will become/ interests me because at least it looks like it’s trying to figure it all out, along with a very small handful of other newspapers that are the usual suspects. That paper has gone through wrenching changes in the last decade which immediately puts every new endeavor into a financial Petri dish, so the fact it is pushing forward is worth applause.
In a video interview with Beet.tv, Vijay Ravindran, The Post’s chief digital officer, says some pretty smart things about creating a new Post Web presence that acknowledges people sometimes want a video source of news, and that finally notices that putting the Post videos where the people are, rather that assuming they’re all going to meet up at your site, is a wise way to distribute news, and make some money. Watching Ravindran speak, I was struck by the simplicity of what he laid out as the newspaper company’s methods and goals, and once again couldn’t help but think that from coast to coast, some mighty venerable news brands are just about out of breath and just about out of time.
A few weeks ago, I was talking about local markets and the Internet with Gordon Borrell, the founder and CEO of Borrell Associates, a big player in the local ad business, and sponsor of an upcoming local online advertising conference in New York. He has a remarkable theory that the trouble newspaper companies ran into with the Internet was that the barrier to entry was just too damn easy.
He pointed out that way back, many of the nation’s most powerful TV station groups—Scripps, Tribune, Gannett—grew out of newspaper companies. But, he says, because the TV (or radio) business demanded investment in big antennas, transmitters, studios and on-air personalities, those big publishing companies had to pay more attention than they did to some stupid Website where they could just paste up today’s paper and forget it. There was too much to lose.
That barrier to entry thing goes both ways. It lets earnest start-ups start up, but it also absorbs the shock for a lot of slackers, which, I’d have to say most newspapers (and most TV stations) have been. “Don’t know, don’t care” has seemed to be the attitude at a lot of established news organizations, until it was way too late.
Borrell thinks a bit like Ravindran and The Washington Post. The way to success, finally, is moving away from being tethered to home page orientation and getting into doing those other things you know, that, as is often the case, you don't always know you know. Borrell, for one, thinks, TV stations and newspapers could have leapt into the local online video advertising business-- selling, producing and syndicating local online video advertising.
From a business standpoint, that’s what legacy local publishing organizations know something about, and in the case of video--in the form of advertising and content--it’s still a new enough offshoot of the Internet that there’s still a shot at success. That’s the amazing thing about legacy publishers. They’ve gotten so old they’ve forgotten how grand life was when they were still the best looking person in the room.