News media companies are losing focus on content

By Maria Terrell


Dallas, Texas, USA


I recently attended a conference for the United States magazine industry and found myself hearing the same questions, concerns, and trends that are plaguing the newspaper industry.

The truth is, we’re all in publishing industry, and content is our product. So this blog, although for a traditionally “newspaper” organisation, is really talking about the new reality of this industry.

We’re in a content industry. Sure, if you work for Jeff Bezos, you’re working for a “technology” company. OK, go with that.

Publishing companies are skinning the cat and getting things done, but they are actually doing content creation in a different way.
Publishing companies are skinning the cat and getting things done, but they are actually doing content creation in a different way.

But your “tech” is about content. How people consume your content. Yes, it’s your platform, with the whiz-bang reading features and functionality. But you’re not creating technology solutions. You’re technologically packaging your content.

Now, we all know there are many ways to skin a cat, but what struck me after a day and a half of programming was that publishers (magazine and newspaper) think they’re skinning cats (aka getting things done). In actuality, they’re shaving wolves, maiming goats, and breeding roaches.

Shaving wolves?

Let’s think about it. Publishers in both spaces are still in a “more is better” mentality — creating more content, more SIPs, more online/app/RSS/special section content …

We think our readers want it. So we’ll skin that cat, and give them more. The truth is, we’re shaving wolves. We take a beautiful, majestic animal whose coat is not only its protection from the elements, but something valued after the fact (for those pro-fur out there) and shaving it off.

Publishing companies are creating more and more content — not realising that the value isn’t in more, but rather in what made them majestic beasts to begin with.

If publishers took a moment to really look at what their content USP is — for example, niche content for the publishers I was meeting with at the magazine conference, or local content for a small regional newspaper, or political content for a Washington, D.C.-based publication — they’d realise diversifying or diluting their content USP is the equivalent of shaving a wolf.

Better content, focused content, and content that is what your readers most engage with and read is what you should be focusing on. Your audience comes to you for a reason. Do that better. Skin the cat, don’t shave the wolf.

Maiming goats?

Okay, I’m not sadistic, but I wonder sometimes what’s going through the publishing industry’s collective mind. Goats are excited little animals that hop, bleat incessantly, and will eat their way through anything. They’re tenacious suckers. Now, if you maim a goat, it can’t move. It can’t climb around to eat, or hop on rocks, or really do anything. So now you just have a dying goat.

The same holds true for listening to your audience. “What does our audience want?” is the question publishers keep asking themselves. “Let’s skin that cat and ask them,” they say.

How can you have a dialogue with your audience when you maim them? More and more publishers are eliminating commenting mechanisms from their sites and apps. You’re maiming the goat.

Yes, there are Internet trolls, and there are tools to manage inappropriate comments. Pre-Internet, we had loons sending letters to the editor. Today loons have computers.

Now, what about your passionate readers who are actually trying to interact, engage, and create communities around your content? You aren’t getting their feedback or offering the opportunity to learn what they want. A maimed goat won’t bleat for long. It’ll die.

Let your readers interact with you. You’ll quickly learn what they want, what’s not working, and where you need to go next.

Breeding cockroaches?

We all know the saying “Where there’s one …” Having had a cheap apartment in my early days, one cockroach quickly becomes an infestation — one that is horrible to try and manage and expensive to eradicate.

Publishers seem to think that by diversifying into sub-brands, events, technology teams, and all sorts of different ventures, they’ll grow their business. We need revenue, so let’s skin that cat.

Reactionary initiatives that aren’t part of your unique USP multiply like cockroaches. Before you know it you’ve got an infestation of initiatives that aren’t aligned to your company’s USP, and you’ve found yourself paying the costly price of trying to eradicate it or continue to spend resources trying to make it successful.

Innovation is important as are new initiatives, but these should be things that are solving a problem for your audience. What are you stopping to start this initiative? Reactionary cat skinning for short-term revenue actually becomes a cockroach breeding ground for fragmented staffs, confused initiatives, and a weakening of focus on what your USP truly is.

Now, put down the phone. There’s no need to call PETA. No animals were harmed n the writing of this blog post. Luckily for all the felines out there, the publishing industry hasn’t figured out how to skin ‘em yet. Sadly for the industry, there are still a lot of ugly wolves, maimed goats, and a slight problem with roaches.

About Maria Terrell

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