To survive, news media companies must start believing they bring more to the party than news feeds. For starters, they offer weather, family news, local statistics, entertainment, event calendars, and — oh yeah — investigative journalism.
To grasp a confusing present and a complex future, taking a thorough look in the rearview mirror can prove helpful. So let’s do just that. Let’s do some print-historical archaeology work.
In the good old days, the news media offer was not simply the delivery of news updates (as many tend to remember). If we dig through the top layers, we will unearth a rather complex offer, attending to a multitude of customer needs.
Sure — local, national, and international news represented one dimension. But there were more. So many more.
Here is an attempt to create a list – and to investigate the hidden opportunities up for grabs for anyone who manages to translate them to a connected, interactive, and collaborative present.
Op-eds: It was never just news with views. It was value-based leadership, giving a sense of purpose and direction to the community. In the digital era – paradoxically enough — analogue events are more important than ever before.
Instead of writing about what must change, you can act it out, co-creating a better future for everyone. The editorial maxim that “racism is not acceptable” translates into integration projects in real life, bringing people closer together, growing minds — and relationships.
Statistical data: Property prices, company transfers, vehicles, salaries, or crime rates — public data is a goldmine for anyone who wishes to offer live, geo-located utility.
Pinpoint the needs of different audiences, within different contexts. Offer simple and easy-to-use personalisation options, add interactive and collaborative layers, and — voilà — you have moved the boring, mostly non-relevant listings of the print version into day-to-day mobile necessities.
Weather reports: We never get tired of discussing the amount of rain or sunshine, winds, and waves — what’s normal and what’s not. But where are the interactive maps, the crowd collaboration, the sensors collecting community-specific local data like snow depths or water levels?
Family news: Facebook might have taken over as the milestone’s billboard. But why give up? Your sister’s fourth child does not interest your ex-colleagues. Why not create the optimal digital experience with anything from congratulation videos with choose-your-own-baby-gift offers to online condolences books?
In the old days, we offered a black-and-white obituary to sum up a loved one’s life. Why don’t we use all the imaginative tools there are to create a strong and worthy multi-dimensional experience?
Crosswords, Sudoku, and cartoons: Here we have moved so slowly that specialists like King & Co have grabbed the market. But this segment is still exploding, so it’s not too late to act.
Instead of publishing the syndicated comic strips, create unique, interactive, fun games – with a connection to the community. Or crack a deal with the biggest gaming brands to publish top lists of players from your local community.
Commercial offers: From display ads in print to display ads on the digital platforms. You should be proud of yourselves. Not. Where are the innovative ideas? And the focus? I believe looking too much after the commercial partners’ needs is a show-stopper.
Follow Jeff Bezos advice: Put the readers first. Putting the end user’s needs first, putting the effort into new business development will automatically lead to new revenue streams: from events and entertainment to education, consultancy services, and e- and m-commerce.
When you have gathered and engaged these niche audiences, the B2C (business-to-customer) and B2B (business-to-business) partners will flock once again.
Local event calendars: Auctions, concerts, football games – it’s all engaging, and the information is already out there. So instead of waiting for display ad orders for print (like we used to in the old days), how can we create a smart à la carte app with geo-location, guiding the audience to relevant content? Maybe there is even a business model hidden in there?
Archives. The print archive used to be, at best, research material or memorabilia (“get the paper dating from your birthday”). But there are hidden content treasures just waiting to be unleashed.
One of the smart ideas that emerged after 36 caffeine- and sugar-charged hours was signed Journalism ++. The project, “Broken Promises,” aimed at catching all the data on upcoming events that journalists and editors reported on in advance – and then never followed up on (e.g., “The law will be enforced from July 1” – and then, in July, nothing.)
The team won the Guardian API prize. With their new idea, we have a prototype of a follow-up tool for news desks.
Last but not least, investigative journalism: Breathing down the necks of those who handle our tax dollars will never go out of style. The interactive era offers tremendous opportunities to open this work up to everyone in the community. Not only through crowdsourcing investigations, but also by educating everyone on their rights and open access to information legislation.
Instead of passively noting how governments veil the truth of how they spend our money, we could start a new business area, selling education packages on how journalism is a guarantee against (to the public offices, expensive) corruption.
So, here is my point: To survive, news media must stop believing they exist merely to create news feeds.
You are not a content relay point. You are:
The garbage cleaners of democracy.
A people’s university, teaching people in your community stuff they didn’t even know they needed to know.
A town square of opinions, where we are forced to listen to our opponents’ arguments.
A trusted guide.
A hand to grab when times are rough.
The day you translate this into identity and delivery is the day we’ll have erased the combination of the words “newspaper” and “death” from our vocabulary.
I am Anette Novak, CEO of Interactive Institute Swedish ICT, which conducts world-class applied research and innovation, creating groundbreaking user experiences. Also, I am an international media consultant, World Editors Forum board member, gourmet, long distance runner and Francophile – mainly because the Parisians walk and talk as fast as I do. I am former editor-in-chief of the Swedish regional media house Norran. I believe in digital opportunities for publishers, open innovation. The future belongs to media companies that are able to maintain the trust of the audience, who define themselves as active community players, and who are able to create amazing experiences.