Contrary to popular belief, newspapers are poised for the most dynamic comeback in their long history. Amongst the doom and gloom it’s easy to forget that more people than ever before are reading newspapers. It’s just the how that’s changed. In fact, globally more people read newspapers than use the internet.
The newspaper industry has always been cyclical but recently there has been a cultural shift among the players. It may have something to do with the changing of the old guard.Whatever’s causing it, I believe there are some key steps newspapers need to take to preserve their role as champions of news.
They need to collaborate, they need to hire good journalists, they need to embrace the mobile generation and they need to make digital profitable. By doing this—and they are well on their way—newspapers will emerge stronger from their current circulation woes and enter 2020 as a leaner, more valued and trusted medium than at any time in the past 50 years.
It makes sense to pool resources. It may seem anathema to print media, but as the world becomes more global it makes sense for newspapers, TV and radio to work together. Foreign bureaux are a great example. They're exceedingly costly to maintain but a source of great content, they’re a natural candidate for collaboration across platforms. It’s already happening: TVNZ’s Jack Tame reports regularly from the US on NewsTalk ZB’s breakfast show.
Competitors need to join forces, investing in innovation and sharing expertise. Currently the print news market looks more like a race to bottom with editorial cost cutting too often the knee-jerk solution. Increasing syndicated content and learning from each other’s inevitable trials and errors will help grow the print news pie instead of scrapping over the diminishing crumbs.
Good journalism will become more important than ever. Sadly, everyone thinks they're a journalist now. Objectivity in social media “news” can rarely be guaranteed. But newspapers have built brands over many years and they are trusted brands and they need to take advantage of that in-built trust.
Newspapers can exploit their position as a trusted news source versus the doubt inherent in other online spaces—as endorsement for advertisers and as a trusted news source for consumers.
Newspaper sites are using more video and as a result journalists will be empowered to produce content across all platforms. In that sense, good journalists worth their wage will need to write, film, edit and even broadcast content.
Nearly nine in ten Americans carries a mobile phone. And yet only a third of Americans access the internet using their phones. As mobile news consumption grows, there are huge opportunities for newspapers to develop ways of reaching out to mobile phone users. How about click on a headline and go to our online video?
Of course, this also leads them directly to other online newspaper content, so readership increases and advertisers respond.
Make digital profitable
First, inherently it’s more profitable because there are no paper costs, distribution costs, news agents or paper boys. You can target and track more effectively, create communities and, most importantly, gather data. And because newspapers—or should I say news companies—have the best content in a medium where content is king, they need to monetise that content. Catering to niche audiences to drive revenue is one way – the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Pro, CFO Journal and CIO Journal come to mind.
Monetising online or even print data is another way. Papers need to be able to analyse their data to create niches which they can then market to. For example, those who read the online travel pages are interested in travel. This data is of value to travel companies and airlines, which creates an opportunity to forge mutually beneficial relationships with businesses in those areas.
Newspapers have a bright future. They attract some of the globe’s brightest people, they are trusted brands, respected and well-liked by consumers. The need for media as a provocative fourth estate has never been greater and there will always be a market for brands that continue to deliver quality content.
Despite the doomsayers there are ways for papers to monetise their assets. It won’t be a one size fits all solution and some will fail to adapt. But good papers engender trust, and trust enables risk taking and diversification onto different platforms.
These are the challenges newspapers face. How they adapt to those challenges is going to be fascinating to watch.
- Born in 1966, Peter Thomson grew up surrounded by newspapers. His father was in the newspaper printing business and over the years his newspaper reading became a habit. He turned this love of print into M2M, a successful media agency targeting the luxury, fashion and beauty niche, which, when he left in 2012 had offices in 26 countries around the world and US$550m revenue. M2M was an early adopter of the new free newspapers in the UK.