“Why didn’t newspapers invent Facebook?” was a question that sparked widespread debate, both in the real world and on social media, at the 2011 INMA World Congress in New York.
Responses included that newspaper thinking was too slow, not innovative and entrepreneurial enough. That we weren’t prepared to try and fail. That senior management didn’t “get” it.
Our criteria for success was too rigid and out of date. And, alternatively, that there was “too much” innovation out there that was bamboozling and no proven way to know where to place your bets.
It is a question that has stuck with me ever since. Two years down the track, I still cannot see any compelling evidence that we as an industry really understand the criteria we should be using to assess new concepts — or even some of the old ones — that so successfully have cut our lunch.
Instead, we are still overwhelmingly looking for the next holy grail that will “fix” newspapers or grow or return or hold audiences to our publications, Internet, or mobile sites.
We are continuing to labour under the belief that writing, producing, and curating beautiful and compelling content is fundamentally enough, and the new media options just provide us with more ways to promote, distribute, and create it more efficiently — and occasionally reply or chat to readers. And advertisers should stick with us while we do that.
But, actually, it is our views on publishing that are broken. It’s not that this view is wrong — it’s just no longer the full picture.
The urgency is now upon us to recognise there is a whole new world of publishing out there in the form of innovative start-ups. And they’re inventing apps and technologies that fulfill the old newspaper criteria of connecting audiences, proclaiming and advocating on behalf of issues, and creating new efficiencies and services for readers and businesses.
As they do this, some of them even create content. Alert! Alert!!
So how should we be assessing new start-ups and deciding if they are right for us? By turning our criteria upside down and asking not which ones create content and could be a threat to journalism.
Instead, we should be asking which ones fulfill the other essential role of publishers that we once owned exclusively, through audience connection, advocacy, and efficiency.
To that end, here is a list of new start-ups out there now that newspaper companies need to pay attention to now!
News organisations love Twitter, but wouldn’t it be great if you could work out where the feeds were coming from? Ban.jo filters social media by location, so you can read tweets and see uploaded pics from their sources at the sites of major events (yay!) or calamities (OMG) anywhere in the world.
When it takes off, Ban.jo will challenge news organisations’ claims that they have the most reporters on the ground.
A seriously beautiful and elegant app that allows building and design professionals to turn away from local classifieds and magazines and instead upload images of their work in a way that is both inspirational and useful for wannabe home renovators.
Users can browse by category, designer, or inspiration requirement and see tens of thousands of images. It lets you compare designers or builders to each other, identifies products, and connects you to tradespeople.
And once you’ve done the job and love it, you can upload the images and embrace the bragging rights.
BuzzFeed is a social news organisation, delivering original reporting, insight, and viral content across a rapidly expanding array of subject areas focused around entertainment and water-cooler news.
The technology detects what is trending on the Web, and encourages contribution and ranking by readers. And it is bright and super buzzy and fun to read.
Effectively, it’s a new world news site for under 25-somethings. The site reaches more than 25 million monthly unique visitors and was founded by Jonah Peretti, who previously co-founded The Huffington Post.
Rather than write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper to complain about the state of potholes or graffiti in your area to shame government into taking action, take a photo with your smartphone and log it with publicstuff.com.
The app logs the issue with participating councils and follows its progress through to repair; councils also promote their actions.
There are many review sites out there, but Yelp appears to be one of the most persistent across categories and allows participants to vent about or give a shout out about.
Yelp provides key contact information for retailers, restaurants, and service businesses. It is tied to mapping, making it easy to find suitable businesses by location, or search by name, and is a contender that could challenge local newspapers for advertising and metros for their dominance of review content.
Local newspapers don’t need to worry about online because you can never replicate geographical connection with social media, right?
Nextdoor.com is a social media app for local communities. You can only join the network if you have a physical address in the neighbourhood, and it is being adopted in the United States by county councils wanting to disseminate local information as an alternative to newspaper notices and advertising.
Participants can communicate and be friendly with neighbours in a virtual environment without the need to be besties and know all about their private lives. As a tool to help find lost dogs, share information about crime, schools, promote local school fairs, and review local services, it’s proving a winner.
Catherine Fake, the founder of Flickr, has a new company called Findery, which is a map-based app that lets you pin notes to locations.
Participants can pin anything — personal memories, photos, or reviews, etc., to Findery to help others learn about the local area. So newspapers could pin links to stories on their locations in Findery, too, if we got closer.